More than 800 individuals from Syria were granted asylum in 2013, the highest number since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began tracking such data, and 1,449 have been granted asylum since 2004, according to figures recorded by the federal government.
The likely explanation for the 2013 figures, the most recent year for which data is available from DHS, is the ongoing civil war in Syria, in which Iran and the Islamic State play key roles.
"The wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as armed conflicts, human rights violations and deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions in other countries, pushed the number of asylum applications in industrialized countries to a 22-year high last year," the United Nations reported in March of this year.
"In the 1990s, the Balkan wars created hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, said Antonio Guterres, the U.S. refugee commissioner. "Many of them found refuge in industrialized countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere."
"Today, the surge in armed conflicts around the world presents us with similar challenges, in particular the dramatic situation in Syria," said Guterres. "Our response has to be just as generous now as it was then—providing access to asylum, resettlement opportunities and other forms of protection for the people fleeing these terrible conflicts."
In 2004 when DHS began tracking the data, there were 36 individuals granted asylum from Syria. That number increased more than 22-fold to total 811 individuals granted asylum in 2013.
The figures include those individuals who were granted asylum either affirmatively or defensively.
"An affirmative asylum application occurs when an asylum-seeker files an application for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)," says the American Immigration Council, a non-profit group focusing on immigration policy. "If the asylum officer does not grant the asylum application, then the applicant is put into removal proceedings and can renew the request for asylum there."
"A defensive asylum application occurs when one who has already encountered the government and is in removal proceedings, applies for asylum to an immigration judge," the group says. "In other words, asylum is applied for "as a defense against removal from the U.S."
While DHS states that most asylum seekers come from China, Egypt and Ethiopia, Syria still ranks in the top five countries for asylum.
"In 2013, the leading countries of nationality of persons granted either affirmative or defensive asylum were China (34 percent), Egypt (14 percent), Ethiopia (3.5 percent), Nepal (3.4 percent), and Syria (3.2 percent)," states DHS. "Nationals of these five countries accounted for over half of all persons granted asylum."