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UN says some asylum seekers can now be sent back to Bulgaria

The UN's refugee agency said Tuesday it was partially lifting a call to stop returning asylum seekers to Bulgaria because conditions there had improved. Under current rules, European countries must return asylum seekers to the first country on the continent they arrive in. But in January the United Nations urged European nations to suspend all returns to Bulgaria, citing "systematic deficiencies in reception conditions and asylum procedures" after the country was swamped with refugees from war-ravaged Syria.

Italy reports 900 migrants rescued at sea

Italy has rescued 896 migrants crossing the Mediterranean by boat overnight, the navy said on Friday, after the government warned of an "emergency" caused by a surge in new arrivals. Three navy warships and two coast guard patrol boats took on the migrants in the Mediterranean and they were then transferred to other vessels and taken to ports in Sicily, the navy said in a statement. In Geneva, the UN refugee agency UNHCR estimated 6,000 people had been rescued by the Italian navy from over 40 overcrowded boats in the past four days.

Italy needs EU help to handle tide of refugees, U.N. says

GENEVA (Reuters) - An estimated 6,000 people, many of them Syrians and Eritreans, have been rescued by Italy's navy in four days and thousands more asylum seekers keen to reach Europe have gathered in Libya, the U.N. refugee agency on Friday. The UNHCR urged the European Union to help Italy provide more reception facilities and find "durable solutions" for asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution.

Italy sounds alarm as 4,000 immigrants land

Italy said Wednesday that 4,000 immigrants have reached its shores by boat in the past two days -- the highest number since it launched a naval operation to rescue them at sea in the wake of two shipwrecks last year. "The landings are non-stop and the emergency is increasingly glaring," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told Rai Uno public radio, adding that a corpse had been found on one of the migrant boats rescued.

Australia axes free advice for asylum-seekers

Asylum-seekers arriving in Australia on unauthorised boats will no longer be granted free advice on immigration matters, the government said Monday. Scrapping the scheme that helped asylum-seekers complete visa applications and gave them advice on complex immigration matters is expected to save Aus$100 million (US$93 million) over four years. "From today people who arrived illegally by boat, as well as illegally by air, will no longer receive taxpayer-funded immigration advice and assistance," Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.

Asylum seekers in Europe reach two-decade high

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.

Syrians are main asylum seekers in rich world: U.N.

By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - For the first time, Syrians were the biggest group seeking asylum in industrialized countries last year, as the impact of fighting in the country spread beyond the turbulent region, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday. A record number of asylum requests by Syrians and Russians in 2013 raised the total number received in 44 rich countries to it highest since 2001, the agency said. The total of 612,700 claims rose 28 percent from the year before.

Syria asylum claims in rich nations more than double in 2013

The number of Syrians seeking asylum in developed countries more than doubled last year from 2012 and was six times higher than at the start of its bloody civil war in 2011, the UN said on Friday. Syrian asylum claims in 44 industrialised countries soared to 56,400 in 2013 from 25,200 such applications a year earlier and 8,500 in 2011, the UN's refugee agency said in a report.

Number of refugee applicants in Japan hits record high in 2013

The number of people who applied for refugee status in Japan hit a record high of 3,260 in 2013, up 715 from the previous record in 2012, the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau said Thursday. The figure marked the third straight year of increase, but the number of people granted refugee status plunged to six in 2013 from 18 in the previous year, according to the bureau. Among those who applied, Turkish nationals constituted the largest group at 658, followed by 544 from Nepal, 380 from Myanmar and 345 from Sri Lanka.

Refugees in Nepal condemned to 'hilly prison' by visa fines

Amir Hussain, a Rohingya Muslim, lost a dozen members of his family to sectarian violence in Myanmar last year. He fled to Nepal where the country's policy on refugees has left him among hundreds trapped, jobless and mired in debt. He lives with his family in a tiny room in a house where walls have collapsed, water drips through holes in the roof and an open concrete stairwell is a potential deathtrap for his two young children. "If I go back to Burma (Myanmar), I will be killed," he said. "When I came to Nepal, I felt safe but we found many problems."
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