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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 01:25 GMT
Iraqi asylum seeker numbers jump
An Iraqi woman speaks to a UNHCR worker (April 2007)
Fleeing Iraqis have put a strain on neighbouring countries like Syria
An increase in Iraqi asylum seekers in 2007 has contributed to the reversal of a five-year downward trend in asylum applications to developed countries.

Iraqis were the largest group among asylum seekers to the world's industrialised countries for the second year running, according to a UN report.

More than 45,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in 2007, up from 22,900 in 2006, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

But they make up only 1% of some 4.5 million Iraqis uprooted by war.

Everyone wants to be in Iraq, your own country is best. But there is no future there
Mohammed, who lives in Sweden

Among these, more than 2.5 million people are displaced within Iraq, while two million others have moved to neighbouring countries not included in the new report, such as Syria and Jordan.

The most popular destination for asylum seekers of all nationalities in 2007 was the US, with an estimated 49,200 new asylum claims - accounting for 15% of all applications.

However, the US had only one asylum seeker per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to 2.6 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants for EU countries.

Second to the US was Sweden, which saw a 50% increase in the number of new asylum applications, from 24,300 in 2006 to 36,200 last year.

Bar chart showing 10 countries receiving most asylum claims in 2006-7

The sharp rise was due primarily to the arrival of large numbers of Iraqis.

In 2007 Sweden accounted for 11% of all claims received in the industrialised world, compared with 8% in 2006.

EU 'could do more'

After the US and Sweden, the top countries of destination for asylum seekers were France (29,200), Canada (28,300), and the UK (27,900).

Greece, Germany, Italy, Austria and Belgium were also among the 10 countries to receive the most asylum seekers.

The UNHCR said that EU members could be doing far more to help with resettlement.

Sharing the burden with Syria and Jordan is crucial to ensuring protection for Iraqis in neighbouring countries, the agency said.

Amongst 27 EU member states, only eight have established programmes for refugee resettlement.

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After Iraq, the countries that were the greatest source of asylum seekers in 2007 were Russia (18,800), China (17,100), Serbia (15,400) and Pakistan (14,300).

Asylum seekers are those who have sought international protection and whose claim to refugee status is yet to be determined.



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