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Published: Monday March 24, 2014 MYT 8:25:03 PM
Updated: Monday March 24, 2014 MYT 8:27:10 PM

Asylum seekers in Europe reach two-decade high

A Syrian refugees shouts slogans as he holds a placard that reads "the Syrians are abused by security agents" outside a refugee centre in Spain's north African enclave Melilla March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Juan Medina

A Syrian refugees shouts slogans as he holds a placard that reads "the Syrians are abused by security agents" outside a refugee centre in Spain's north African enclave Melilla March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Juan Medina

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Nearly half a million people sought asylum in Europe last year, the most in two decades, with the largest number coming from Syrians fleeing civil war, the European Union said on Monday.

In total, 434,160 people sought refuge in the EU's 28 member states in 2013, according to Eurostat, the EU statistics office. That was an increase of nearly 30 percent from the 335,000 requests in 2012.

The European Union rejected 65 percent of the requests and granted refugee status to 15 percent of the asylum seekers. The remaining 20 percent got at least temporary permission to stay in Europe. Rejected applicants had a right to appeal.

Some 50,000 applicants from Syria accounted for the largest number, nearly 12 percent of the total. More than 140,000 people have been killed in the three-year-old conflict, which has grown increasingly sectarian as regional powers back either President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shi'ite offshoot Alawite sect, or the mostly Sunni rebels.

Russia accounted for the second-largest number of claims, at 41,000, a 10 percent share. Afghanistan was third with 26,000 claims. Serbia, Pakistan, Kosovo, Somalia, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria and Iraq followed.

Eurostat said the total was the largest number since 1993, when the EU recorded more than 500,000 claims. Germany, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Italy got 70 percent of the applications.

Eurostat also noted it had changed its methodology in 2008; until then, countries provided data on a voluntary basis.

(Reporting by Martin Santa; Editing by Larry King)

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