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Requests for asylum in West climb 12 percent: UNHCR
Tue Mar 24, 2009 11:08am EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - An estimated 383,000 asylum seekers lodged applications to stay in the West in 2008, a 12 percent rise on 2007 as more Somalis and Afghans fled fighting in their homelands, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Refugees from Iraq and elsewhere are now seeking permanent shelter in a wider variety of destinations, possibly because traditional countries of asylum such as Sweden have adopted stricter policies, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Nearly 40,500 Iraqis sought asylum abroad in 2008, keeping them at the top of the list for a third straight year, the UNHCR said in a new report.
Iraqi applications were down 10 percent, but were filed further afield, in 37 Western nations. "This suggests that people seeking international protection are searching for it in a larger number of countries," the U.N. agency said.
Iraqi requests lodged in Sweden plummeted 67 percent because of more restrictive asylum policies, but the number nearly tripled in neighboring Norway, and quadrupled in Finland, it said.
Somalis were the second largest group overall, filing 21,800 applications in industrialized countries led by Italy -- a 77 percent increase from the previous year and "a reflection of the deteriorating situation in the country," the UNHCR said.
Russian nationals followed at 20,500, with neighboring Poland a prime destination, according to the agency.
Afghans filed 18,500 asylum requests, almost double the figure from the previous year, with Britain, Turkey and Greece their main destinations. UNHCR attributed the increase to intensifying conflict in Afghanistan.
Chinese nationals lodged 17,400 applications, a relatively stable number, with more than half of them submitted in the United States, according to the UNHCR. Nigerians (13,700), Pakistanis (13,300), Eritreans (12,300), Mexicans (12,200) and Iranians (10,800) were other major groups who filed applications in 51 countries in 2008.
Europe received close to 290,000 of the overall claims, a 13 percent rise on the previous year, it said. The United States registered 49,000 applications, a 3 percent drop from 2007, but it remained the main country of destination for asylum seekers of all nationalities last year, accounting for 13 percent of requests, according to UNHCR.
However, the United States had only one asylum seeker per 1,000 inhabitants, against an EU average of 2.4 per 1,000.
Canada saw a dramatic 30 percent rise, mainly linked to higher numbers of Mexican and Haitian asylum-seekers, becoming the second most popular destination with 36,900 requests, according to the UNHCR.
France had 35,200 asylum requests, the third highest number and main destination in Europe, with a large influx from Mali.
Italy ranked fourth, with applications more than doubling to reach a record 31,200, mainly attributed to large numbers of irregular migrants arriving by boat on the island of Lampedusa.
Britain followed with 30,500, up 8 percent, to rank fifth. Continued...
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