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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 16:20 GMT
Iraqis rank first in asylum bids
Iraqi refugee Ali al-Bayati ,26, shows his Iraqi ID
Most Iraqi refugees have fled to neighbouring countries
The number of Iraqis seeking asylum in industrialised countries has jumped by almost 80% from a year earlier, according to the UN refugee agency.

The UNHCR says that a total of 22,200 applications were made by Iraqis in 2006, up from 12,500 in 2005.

The increase comes despite a continued five-year decline in the total number of people seeking refuge abroad.

The majority of the 2 million Iraqis forced to flee remain in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan.

"The increase was particularly significant in the last quarter of 2006, when 8,100 Iraqis applied for asylum in 36 countries," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond.

"This reflects the growing sectarian violence in Iraq," he added.

Yet the numbers remain well below the peak of 2002 when some 50,000 Iraqis applied to live in industrialised countries.

The vast majority of uprooted Iraqis remain living in difficult conditions in neighbouring countries in the region.

Syria is home to one million people while 750,000 are living in Jordan and up to 130,000 live in Egypt.

Sweden: 9,000
The Netherlands: 2,800
Germany: 2,100
Greece: 1,400
Source: UNHCR

But for those who want to leave the Middle East, the most popular destination is Sweden, followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Greece.

Iraqis were the single largest group of asylum seekers in 2006, followed by people from China (18,300), Russia (15,700), Serbia and Montenegro (15,700) and Turkey (8,700).

Yet the overall number of applications for asylum in the industrialised world fell for the fifth year running, falling some 10% from 2005 and down by 50% from five years earlier.

In Europe as a whole, the number of asylum seekers was the lowest in 20 years.

The reason for the drop, according to the UNHCR, is due better conditions in home countries as well as more restrictive asylum policies which discourage applications.

Map of Iraqi migration

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