A new survey finds asylum applications in 44 industrialized countries rose by 10 percent in the first half of 2009, compared to the same period last year, bringing the total of asylum claims to 185,000.
The report finds the number of claims for asylum by Iraqis dropped by nearly a third this year compared to last. But the survey notes Iraq remains the top country of origin of the asylum applicants for the fourth year in a row.
Afghans and Somalis are the second- and third-largest groups. The U.N. refugee agency says deteriorating security conditions in their countries are prompting more people to seek refuge abroad.
UNHCR spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba tells VOA trends show an uneven distribution in asylum claims and that certain nationalities tend to go to the same countries to seek asylum.
"If you take the Iraqis, for example, the vast majority of them, more than 50 percent of them, filed claims in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Turkey," she said. "The other groups like the Somalis are mainly applying for asylum in the Netherlands and Sweden as well as in Italy. Why is not very clear, but we do know that asylum policy can affect asylum trends."
For example, the survey finds Iraqi asylum claims in Sweden dropped sharply from 9,000 last year to just 1,000 this year. It says this decline followed a decision by a migration court in Sweden that ruled the situation in Iraq was not one of "armed conflict."
The UNHCR thinks Iraqis still have valid claims for asylum. Lejeune-Kaba says the agency believes it is premature for governments to send Iraqis back to their country.
"Countries should not send back Iraqis that apply from central provinces, including Baghdad. And, these are the areas where the vast majority of refugees from Iraq also come from. It just simply is not safe enough for people to return there at this time," she said.
The survey finds Europe, as a region, received 75 percent of all asylum applications. But, it says the United States remains the single largest recipient country with an estimated 13 percent of all applications filed in industrialized nations.
The report says France ran as the second recipient nation, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.