Almost 20,000 Iraqis seek asylum in industrialized world in first half of 2007
GENEVA, September 21 (UNHCR) - Almost 20,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in industrialized countries in the first half of this year, up 45 percent on the previous six months, according to provisional statistics compiled by the UN refugee agency.
UNHCR, using information provided by governments, said about 19,800 asylum claims were lodged in 36 industrialized countries during the review period, compared to 13,600 in the second half of 2006. The 2007 figures, which reflect continuing violence in Iraq, are more than double those for the first six months of last year, when a total of 8,500 asylum applications were submitted.
If current trends are maintained, by the end of the year the number of Iraqi asylum seekers might reach the levels witnessed between 2000 and 2002, when an average of 40,000-50,000 Iraqis sought asylum each year in the 36 industrialized countries included in UNHCR's statistics.
An estimated 2.2 million Iraqis are currently outside their strife-torn homeland, primarily in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan, which are not included in the industrialized country statistics.
Some 9,300 applications, or almost half of all Iraqi asylum requests during the first half of this year, were submitted in Sweden. The large Iraqi community in that country and its strong social network might account for the high number of Iraqi asylum seekers there.
Greece registered some 3,500 asylum claims by Iraqis between January and June, compared to 1,400 during the whole of 2006, while Spain and Germany recorded 1,500 and 820 applications respectively during the first half of 2007.
When all nationalities are taken into account, the United States was by far the largest recipient of new asylum claims during the first six months of 2007 with an estimated 26,800 applications, some 1,200 more than during the second semester of 2006. Sweden remained the second largest recipient of new asylum claims from all nationalities throughout the same period with a total of 17,700 people applying for asylum, a 14 percent increase compared to the 15,500 claims lodged during the second half of last year.
With a record-high of 14,700 new asylum applications recorded between January and June 2007, Greece became the third most important destination for asylum seekers, receiving on average one of every 10 asylum applications in the 36 industrialized countries.
It should be noted, however, that in addition to reflecting an increase in new arrivals - particularly of Iraqi nationals - the figures also reflect special procedures introduced in late 2006 by the Greek authorities to clear a backlog of asylum applications.
France ranked fourth among the 36 industrialized countries with some 14,000 claims submitted between January and June, followed by the United Kingdom (12,700), Canada (11,400), Germany (8,200) and Austria (5,700).
Over the past few years, the overall number of new asylum claims submitted in the 36 industrialized countries covered by UNHCR's report has decreased continuously. This trend, however, was reversed in the second half of last year when numbers started to rise.
Assuming that current patterns remain unchanged, it can be expected that the total number of asylum claims lodged in industrialized countries in 2007 might be between 290,000 and 320,000, the first annual increase since 2001.
The main countries of origin of asylum applicants in the first six months of this year were Iraq (19,800), China (8,600), Pakistan (7,300), Serbia and Montenegro (7,200) and the Russian Federation (6,500). Separate statistics for Serbia and the recently independent Montenegro are not available.