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UN: Refugees Not Flooding Rich Countries

The United Nations refugee agency says new statistics show asylum seekers are not flooding into rich countries. It says data from 44 industrialized countries shows 377,000 people filed asylum applications in 2009.

The U.N. refugee agency says the number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries has remained relatively stable for the past two years. But, there has been a shift in the countries of origin.

The report finds Afghans topped the list of asylum applicants with 26,800 submissions. This represents a 45 percent increase over 2008. It says Iraqis dropped to second place with 24,000 claims, while Somalis moved to third position with 22,600 asylum applications.

Other top countries of origin include the Russian Federation, China, Serbia, and Nigeria.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says the latest asylum statistics show the claim that asylum seekers are flooding into Europe and other rich countries is baseless. "We have virtually the same number as last year as the year before of people seeking asylum. So, these numbers have not grown in industrialized countries. And, we cannot forget that the vast majority of refugees are hosted in developing countries," she said.

Fleming points to Afghanistan, which now tops the list of asylum seeking countries as an example. "There are 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan and one million in Iran. And, you compare that number to the 26,800 requesting refugee status in industrialized countries. So the notion that there is a flood of asylum seekers into richer countries is a myth," she said.

The report highlights a number of regional disparities. It finds the number of asylum applications increased in 19 countries, while they fell in the other 25. Of note is the Nordic region that recorded a 13 percent increase with 51,000 new applicants, the highest in six years.

Germany showed a 25 percent increase with more than 27,000 applications in 2009.

By contrast, it says the number of applications in southern Europe went down by 33 percent, with more than 50,000 claims. The most significant declines were in Italy, Turkey and Greece.

The report says the United States remains the main destination country for the fourth year in a row, followed by France, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.