A new report by the U.N. refugee agency finds the number of asylum seekers in industrialized countries increased in 2008 for the second consecutive year. It says asylum requests have been rising in part because of the higher number of applications from Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries in turmoil or conflict.
The U.N. refugee agency says more than 380,000 new asylum applications were submitted last year in the 51 industrialized countries. This is 12 percent more than in 2007 and represents the second consecutive annual increase in the number of asylum seekers.
The report says the number of Iraqi asylum seekers declined by 10 percent in 2008. Despite this, Iraqis continue to be the largest nationality seeking asylum in the industrialized world. Somalia is in second place.
UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the number of Somali asylum seekers has gone up to 21,800 and reflects their increasing desperation. He says tens of thousands flee across the Gulf of Aden seeking a better life.
"Others flee up through Africa towards the Mediterranean Coast and then across the Mediterranean. So, in Somalia, it is ongoing conflict over a wide area, lack of economic opportunities. People cannot feed their families," Redmond said.
Redmond says the growing number of Afghans seeking asylum is a worrying sign. He notes Afghan asylum seekers peaked in 2001 and then dropped dramatically with the fall of the Taliban. But, now, he says, the numbers are going up again.
"And that reflects the difficulty of Afghans in resuming their lives, particularly for returning refugees who go back to very, very little in many cases ... So, Afghanistan needs a lot of attention. I would just say that this is a warning sign that Afghanistan still needs a lot of help from the international community so people can go home and stay home," he said.
The report finds the United States continued to be the main country of destination for asylum seekers of all nationalities in 2008. It received about 49,000 new asylum claims, accounting for 13 percent of all applications in industrialized countries.
After the United States, the study says the main countries of destination were Canada, France, Italy and the United Kingdom.