Nearly 11,700 Chinese sought asylum in the U.S, Europe and other industrialized countries in the first half of this year, 15% more than in the same period of 2010, and the highest half-yearly figure since the second half of 2003, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHNCR). China accounted for the second largest group of asylum seekers to industrialized countries after Afghanistan, or 6% of the total.
Two thirds of the asylum seekers from China applied for refuge in the U.S. They accounted for roughy one quarter of the 36,400 applications for asylum lodged in the U.S., constituting the largest national group of would-be refugees. France was the second favorite destination of asylum seekers from China with Canada the third, followed by Australia and the U.K. Asylum applications to Australia were down following Canberra’s tightening of its asylum laws.
Elsewhere, asylum seekers from China have been on the rise, with 20,297 seeking refuge in industrialized countries in 2009 and 21,567 in 2010. This year is on pace to hit the 25,000 mark. While that would not a huge number in relation to China’s immense population, the steady increase in would-be refugees is notable even given the fact that China has historically been one of leading sources of asylum seekers. (We should note that the UNHCR counts asylum applicants and not those who are granted refugee status. Many are turned down and returned to their country of origin. We should also note that the UNHCR reckons that four out of five if all refugees worldwide end up not in industrialized countries but in developing ones.)
The UNHCR report is a statistical compilation and provides little commentary to explain the increase in those seeking refugee status beyond noting that in the first half of 2011 there was a 17% increase in the overall number of individuals requesting refugee status in the 44 industrialized countries monitored as compared to the first half of 2010. It notes that “there have been major forced displacement crises in West, North and East Africa,” but these shouldn’t have affected the Chinese numbers.