STOCKHOLM (AP) — More than 12 times as many Syrians sought asylum in Sweden in 2012 than the previous year, making the Scandinavian country the top European destination for Syrians fleeing their country's civil war, statistics show.
Preliminary figures from the Swedish Migration Board indicate some 7,800 Syrians sought refuge in Sweden during the past 12 months, compared to 640 in 2011. The agency said around 5,000 of the Syrians were granted asylum in 2012, adding that, "Sweden thereby confirmed its position as the primary destination- and recipient country for asylum-seeking Syrians in Europe."
The Nordic nation of 9 million inhabitants is known for its generous welfare system and humane immigration laws, and it has long been perceived as a safe haven for people fleeing war zones and persecution.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 and has evolved into a civil war as rebels try to topple President Bashar Assad's regime. The U.N. on Wednesday estimated more than 60,000 people have been killed in the fight, while around half-a-million Syrians have fled the Arab state, with most going to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Although the migration agency said Sweden is the top European destination for asylum seekers from Syria, Germany led the 2012 tally of all asylum applications on the continent, with 64,000 people. France was in second place with 60,000, while Sweden came in third with a total of 44,000 applications.