The United Nations' refugee agency says 441,300 asylum claims were made last year, compared with 368,000 in 2010.
The report covers 44 countries in Europe, North America, Australasia and north East Asia.
The largest increase was in southern Europe where asylum claims rose 87% to almost 67,000.
The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Gutierrez, says 2011 was "a year of great difficulty for many people".
The main trouble spots were in West Africa and the Arab world, and the numbers of people seeking asylum from Libya, Syria and from Ivory Coast all reached record levels.
Gutierrez says the international system for dealing with refugees has "held firm", despite the pressures it has experienced.