Malta last year received, on average, the highest number of asylum-seekers compared to its national population, a report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) shows.

Malta received 20.2 applicants per 1,000 inhabitants. Sweden ranked second (19.2 applicants per 1,000 inhabitants), followed by Liechtenstein (17.3 applicants per 1,000 inhabitants), Luxembourg (11.9 applicants per 1,000 inhabitants), and Switzerland (11.5 applicants per 1,000 inhabitants).

The refugee agency's report shows a sharp rise in asylum claims in 44 industrialised countries over the course of last year, driven primarily by the crisis in Syria.

In 2013, Europe received 484,000 asylum claims, an increase of 32 percent compared with the year before. The 28 Member States of the European Union registered a total of over 398,000 asylum claims last year.

With around 109,000 new asylum claims, Germany was the largest recipient of asylum seekers. France received the second highest number in Europe with around 60,000 claims. Sweden was the main destination country in Northern Europe, receiving around 53 000 applications.

In Southern Europe, the number of newly registered asylum-seekers increased by 49 per cent to 89,600, the highest on record to date.

Turkey was the main recipient of asylum applications in the region (44,800), followed by Italy (27,800) and Greece (8,200).

The increase in Italy was mainly due to the many boat arrivals during last year. This trend is continuing in 2014 as almost 10,000 people have arrived in Italy since the beginning of January.

Despite the general increase in arrivals of asylum seekers in the industrialised countries of the world, the overall numbers are dwarfed compared with those seeking protection in regions near conflict areas. At the moment the neighbouring  countries to the Syrian Arab Republic are hosting some 2,5 million refugees, half of them are children.

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