Iraqis still at the top of the asylum seeker table, despite drop

News Stories, 17 October 2008

© UNHCR/Electronic Publishing Unit

GENEVA, October 17 (UNHCR) A UN refugee agency report released on Friday shows that the number of Iraqis seeking asylum in industrialized countries dropped in the first six months of this year, but they were still by far the top nationality seeking asylum in these destinations.

According to the asylum trends report, the number of claims made by Iraqis (19,500) during the first six months of 2008, was higher than the combined number of asylum claims submitted by citizens of the Russian Federation (9,400) and China (8,700), the second and third most important source countries. Other important countries of origin of asylum seekers were Somalia (7,400), Pakistan and Afghanistan (6,300 each).

Compared to the previous six months, however, the number of Iraqi asylum seekers fell by 18 percent and by 10 percent compared to the first half of 2007. In spite of this downward trend, Iraqis still accounted for 12 percent of all asylum applications lodged in the industrialized world.

Sixty percent of all Iraqis claimed asylum in only four countries: Sweden (20 percent), Germany (18 percent), Turkey (14 percent) and the Netherlands (12 percent). One in five of all applications by Iraqis were submitted in Sweden (3,900), which has been the main destination country for Iraqi asylum seekers for some time.

Arrivals in Sweden, however, have seen a recent drop following a change in Swedish decision-making on Iraqi asylum claims, which has resulted in fewer Iraqis submitting applications. At the same time, applications by Iraqis have gone up in Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. Germany, for example, received 3,400 Iraqi asylum claims in the first half of 2008, the same level as in the preceding six months, but four times more than in the first half of 2007.

Overall, an estimated 165,100 asylum claims were submitted by all nationalities in the industrialized countries during the first half of 2008.

The United States remained the largest single recipient of new claims by asylum seekers of all nationalities during the first six months of 2008. An estimated 25,400 individuals submitted asylum applications in the US, representing 15 percent of all applications lodged in the 44 industrialized countries covered by the report.

Canada ranked second country of destination with 16,800 applications by asylum seekers of all nationalities during the first six months of 2008, followed by France, the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The number of asylum claims submitted in industrialized countries in 2007 rose by 9 percent compared to 2006. This upward trend has continued during the first half of this year, with data showing an increase of 3 percent compared to the first half of 2007.

Assuming that current patterns remain unchanged during the next six months, UNHCR expects the number of asylum claims lodged during the whole of 2008 to reach up to 360,000, or 10 percent higher than in 2007.

By William Spindler in Geneva