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Iraqis Top List of People Seeking Asylum in Industrialized Countries

The United Nations refugee agency says Iraqis top the list of people seeking asylum in 36 of the world's richest countries. A new report shows asylum applications in industrial countries filed by Iraqis rose 45 percent in the first half of 2007 compared to the previous six months. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

New statistics show 19,800 Iraqis applied for asylum in the 36 industrialized countries during the first six months of the year.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says almost half of all Iraqi applications were submitted to Sweden, followed by Greece, Spain and Germany.

"This latest figure, which reflects continuing violence in Iraq, is more than double the number for the first six months of 2006, when a total of 8,500 asylum applications were submitted by Iraqis," he said. "If this trend is maintained, by the end of the year the number of Iraqi asylum seekers might reach over 40,000, which is the highest number since 2002."

Although the United States was by far the largest recipient of new asylum requests from countries around the world, the report says very few of the claims came from Iraqis.

Redmond explains Iraqi asylum seekers tend not to turn up spontaneously at a United States airport or border, as they do in European countries. He says the UNHCR has given Washington the names of more than 10,000 Iraqis who are in particular danger and who want to resettle in the United States.

He says that so far about 700 Iraqis have been screened and accepted for resettlement in the U.S. He urges Washington to speed up its vetting process and approve thousands of other Iraqis for resettlement quickly.

He notes that the number of Iraqis seeking asylum in industrialized nations pales in comparison to the more than two million refugees accepted by Syria and Jordan.

Redmond says over the past few years, the overall number of new asylum claims submitted in the 36 industrialized countries by people across the globe has decreased continuously.

"This trend, however, was reversed in the second half of 2006, when numbers started to rise," he said. "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, which would be the first increase since 2001."

The report says after Iraq, most asylum applicants in the first six months of this year came from China, Pakistan, Serbia and Montenegro and the Russian Federation.