A new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) shows that asylum claims in industrialized countries have increased 20% from 2010 to 2011. The United States continued to receive the most asylum seekers among the countries surveyed: approximately 74,000 asylum seekers in 2011. This compares to approximately 55,500 asylum seekers for 2010, a 33% increase (among all countries, South Africa received the most asylum seekers).
The increase in asylum seekers to the U.S. is due largely to higher numbers from three countries: China (+20%), Mexico (+94%), and India (+241%).
The U.S. receives more asylum seekers from China than from any other country. In 2010, we received 12,850 asylum seekers from China. In 2011, we received 15,450 asylum seekers from China, an increase of 2,600 people or about 20%. The large numbers are probably due to special provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that provide for asylum for victims of forced family planning–these provisions were created specifically to assist people from China, and they certainly seem to have encouraged Chinese nationals to seek asylum here. Indeed, of the 24,400 Chinese asylum seekers worldwide, the U.S. received about 63% of all cases. This is a very high number, given our physical distance from China. If these numbers continue to rise, I wonder whether it will cause us to re-think our decision to grant asylum to victims of forced family planning.
The biggest numerical increase was among Mexicans seeking asylum in the U.S. In 2010, there were 4,225 asylum seekers from Mexico. In 2011, we received 8,186 asylum seekers from Mexico. I recently wrote a post where I expressed doubt about the reported increase in Mexican asylum claims. If the UNHCR report is correct, I was wrong and the number of asylum seekers has increased dramatically in the last year. We will see whether the grant rate for Mexicans–which has been about 2%–will increase with the new crop of asylum seekers. If this trend continues, it will certainly place a burden on our asylum system, and we might need to re-evaluate how we deal with the new influx.
In terms of relative increases, India had the largest increase: Up 241% from last year (the U.S. received 720 Indian asylum seekers in 2010 and 2,457 in 2011). As far as I can tell, Indian cases are very diverse: political persecution, religious persecution, and sexual orientation, among other basis. Why the dramatic increase in India asylum seekers? I have no idea. One “push factor” that seems inapplicable to Indian cases is the economy–India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. One year does not make a trend, so we will have to wait and see how many Indian nationals seek asylum in the U.S. in 2012.
Aside from the “big three,” there were major increases from El Salvador (2010–2,703; 2011–4,011) and Guatemala (2010–2,235; 2011–3,363), and smaller increases from Honduras, Haiti, and Nepal. Rounding out the top 10 source countries for asylum seekers in the U.S. were Ethiopia (which saw a small drop in numbers) and Egypt, which appeared on the U.S. top ten list for the first time, perhaps as a result of difficulties related to the Arab Spring.
Worldwide, the top source countries for asylum seekers were Afghanistan (approximately 35,700 asylum seekers, up 34% from 2010), China (24,400; up 13% from 2010), Iraq (23,500; up 14% from 2010, but significantly down from 2008 when there were 40,400 claims), Serbia (21,200; down 28% from 2010), and Pakistan (18,100; up 66% from last year).
Given world population growth (there are a lot more people than there used to be), general economic malaise, and the dismal state of human rights in many countries, it is not surprising that the number of asylum seekers is increasing. How we address these problems and how we treat people who come to us for help are some of the defining issues of our time.