Syrian boys outside a refugee camp.

Rejected Asylum Requests: Mapping the Different Approaches to the Refugee Crisis

Alice Corona
Jun 26, 2015 · 6 min read

This is the first of a series of articles around the latest UNHCR Report on Refugees and Forced Displacement. Each article uses data, statistics and Silk’s interactive charts to highlight patterns and trends of the global refugee crisis. According to the report, “by end-2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year”.

Note: Silk will be shut down on Dec. 15 2017. After this date, links might be broken and interactive visualizations static. Will fix this as soon as possible

Syria now accounts for 3.8 million refugees and people in a refugee-like situation, according to UNHCR. To put this in perspective, more than one every four of last year’s refugees was Syrian. Most of them fled to Turkey. By the end of 2014, the country hosted more than 1.56 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon and Jordan also shared the burden, hosting 1.15M and 623K refugees respectively. Syrians fleeing their homeland aren’t always granted the refugee status and the protection that comes with it, however. In this regard, Russia and Italy share a worrying record. They are the only two countries that refused the refugee status to more than a third of the Syrian asylum seekers whose applications were processed in 2014. Here’s a deeper look at UNHCR’s latest report. (You can change the filters in the interactive charts of the following paragraphs to explore the data further).

Asylum Seekers: Percentage of Rejected Refugees of all Processed Cases in 2014. Filtered for Syria as Origin

South Africa rejected between 90% and 100% of all the asylum applications processed in 2014 from Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, India, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Burundi and Uganda.

Top Asylum Seekers’ Request Flows with Highest Rejection Rate

According to UNHCR, the asylum system in South Africa is overwhelmed and can’t offer good quality operations. Partly, it’s because the country lacks a comprehensive immigration system. This pushes all migrants to try to gain access to the country by applying for asylum. Yet the effects of this impact also refugees and asylum seekers. The majority of them have fled the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the security situation in Somalia or are individuals who claim to have faced persecution in Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. In July 2014, the government applied new regulations. The law now poses new obstacles for immigrants and has also made asylum applications harder. This might explain the high rejection rates of the country. For example, asylum-seekers who arrive in the country have only five days to present their applications. And the whole country has only 3 reception offices where first-time migrants can do so.

According to UNHCR data, Australia is the fourth country in the world for rejection rates. And the first among Western countries. For the report, it rejected the refugee status to almost 80% of the 13K asylum applications processed in 2014.

Incoming Asylum Seekers: Total Processed Application Reported and Percentage of Rejected Applications Processed

Australia has a strict law on unauthorized immigration. Even when it comes to refugees, asylum seekers and people fleeing from persecution. Other than the high rate of rejected asylum applications, the Australian stance on immigration has been criticized largely by the UN and human rights organizations like Amnesty International.

Only a fraction of all asylum seekers trying to reach the country actually can file an asylum request. In 2013 the Labor government passed Operation Sovereign Borders. This zero-tolerance policy, under military control, contemplates “turnback operations”. When Australian border authorities sight migrants, they will send them back out of national waters. Either on the boat they came from or on inflatable dinghies or lifeboats provided for this. The UNHCR openly criticized this operation, which violates international laws requiring that no individual can be returned involuntarily to a country in which he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution.

So far Australia has towed several boats out of its waters and back to where they were fleeing from. For example, it returned several boats to Sri Lanka. A controversial practice that might place the country in breach of international laws, as a boat contained Tamil asylum seekers is likely to be persecuted at home.

Sometimes, migrants fleeing from persecution eventually manage to file an asylum application. And are recognized as refugees by Australian authorities. Yet, they still won’t make it to Australia. In 2013, the Prime Minister Rudd announced that from now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.

International law requires the Australian government to give protection to refugees. But the country has its own way of complying with these obligations. Currently, people Australia recognizes as refugees are given “protection” by being resettled in camps. These facilities aren’t in the country though. There are some in Nauru, Papua New Guinea and from this year also Cambodia.

This practice is setting a troubling precedent. It’s shifting the burden of the refugee crisis on less developed countries, where it’s harder to sustain. Studies suggest that migrants boost more advanced economies. But when they arrive in less stable ones, they also break fragile balances. Social and economic infrastructures of less developed countries face the risk of collapsing under this flow. And this is likely to cause more problems. Yet, last year about 42% of the world’s refugees were hosted by countries where the GDP PPP per capita is less than $5,000.

Incoming Refugees to GDP (PPP) per capita and Incoming Refugees to 1,000 inhabitants

Percentage of Rejected Asylum Requests of all the 2014 Decisions, by Country of Origin. Filtered for Australia as Destination

NOTE: You can find all the data, together with more interactive charts and articles on our dedicated resource: The Refugee Crisis in Data.

The data presented here is about the “population of concern to UNHCR […]. This includes persons who are forcibly displaced (refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs, etc.), those who have found a durable solution (returnees), as well stateless persons, most of whom have never been forcibly displaced. This categorization is neither identical to nor synonymous for the 59.5 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, a figure that not only includes refugees and IDPs beyond UNHCR’s mandate but also excludes returnees and stateless persons.

Read this page for more information on definitions used in this Silk.

Originally published at


Silk is a place to explore the world through data.


Silk is a place to explore the world through data. Each Silk contains data on a specific topic. Silk displays data as beautiful interactive charts, maps and web pages.

Alice Corona

Written by

Stories with data, from the data collection (or scrape) to the data visualization. Data storytelling instructor. Currently project leader at


Silk is a place to explore the world through data. Each Silk contains data on a specific topic. Silk displays data as beautiful interactive charts, maps and web pages.