Iraqis, Afghans and Somalis top list of asylum seekers in industrialized world

Press Releases, 21 October 2009

GENEVA Asylum applications in industrialized nations rose by 10 percent in the first half of 2009 compared to the same period last year, according to the UN refugee agency's provisional statistics released Wednesday. A total of 185,000 asylum claims were filed in the six months of this year across 38 European countries, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and The Republic of Korea.

Iraq remains the top country of origin of the asylum applicants (13,200 claims) for the fourth consecutive year. Afghans (12,000 claims) and Somalis (11,000 claims) are the second and third largest groups as security conditions continue to deteriorate in large parts of their home countries. The other main countries of origin are China, Serbia (including Kosovo), the Russian Federation, Nigeria, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

"These statistics show that ongoing violence and instability in some parts of the world force increasing numbers of people to flee and seek protection in safe countries," High Commissioner António Guterres said. "There is an acute need for countries to keep their asylum doors wide open to those who are in genuine need of international protection."

As a region, Europe received 75 percent of all asylum applications although the United States remained the single largest recipient country with an estimated 13 percent of all applications filed in industrialized nations (23,700). France ranks as the second recipient nation with 10 percent of all claims (19,400), followed by Canada (18,700), the United Kingdom (17,700) and Germany, ranked fifth (12,000).

Analyzing the trends, the UNHCR statistical report shows an uneven distribution of asylum claims. The majority of claims by Iraqis, for example, were submitted in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as in neighbouring Turkey. Afghan claims were mostly filed in the United Kingdom or Norway, while Somalis mainly applied for asylum in the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.

Policy changes may also affect asylum trends, according to the report. It cites the example of a sharp decline in Iraqi asylum claims in Sweden after a migration court ruled in 2007 that the situation in Iraq was not one of "armed conflict". The decision, the report says, may have shifted Iraqi applications to other countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway.

While the report focused on asylum trends during the first half of this year, the authors say the second semester might see a further increase in the number of claims, based on seasonal patterns over the past 10 years. The report also cautions that the number of applications does not necessarily equal the number of individuals because some people may have applied in more than one country in a given year or more than once in the same country.

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Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

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Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

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Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid OperationPlay video

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