A new report by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, shows that poor countries are providing asylum for most of the world's refugees. This first edition of the "UNHCR Statistical Yearbook" provides a global view of forced displacement over the past decade including refugee trends in industrialized and developing countries.

The report says since 1992, the number of refugees in the world has gone down and new refugee outflows have diminished. It says the global refugee population has stabilized at about 12 million.

The U.N. Refugee agency says there are also 25 million internally displaced people in the world, but its report focuses on refugees and asylum seekers who have sought shelter outside their own countries. The UNHCR itself deals mainly with refugees, while other U.N. and private agencies help internally displaced people.

The report notes Afghans made up one-third of the world refugee population in 2001. The Statistical Yearbook does not include the significant changes which have taken place in Afghanistan this year, with more than 1.7 million Afghan refugees returning home.

The head of the U.N. Refugee Agency's Population Data Unit, Bela Hovy, says one of the key findings is that most refugees are fleeing from developing countries and, at the same time, are being hosted by some of the world's poorest nations. He says many people had assumed that rich countries bear the brunt of caring for huge numbers of asylum seekers.

"Seven out of 10 refugees are hosted by low income countries and eight out of 10 refugees are produced by low income countries," Mr. Hovy said. "In other words, it underscores what we do know that most refugees seek solutions in the region, but it very clearly demonstrates that the highest burden of international refugee protection is amongst the poorest countries."

The report says almost half of the world's refugees are women. It notes asylum applications in industrialized countries last year rose by eight percent. And it says most asylum-seekers admitted by the wealthier countries came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Yugoslavia. Mr. Hovy says since the mid-1990s, Asia has both produced and hosted the largest number of refugees. At the same time, he says the number of refugees in Africa has fallen.

"Since the mid-90s with the end of the Rwandan conflict and also with the end of the Mozambican repatriation in the early 90s, you see that the refugee population in Africa is steadily declining compared to the other regions," Mr. Hovy explained. "Whereas actually Asia, which includes Afghanistan, as the country of origin is increasing, partly due to new outflows in recent years to first asylum countries."

The U.N. refugee official says the refugee population in Europe peaked in the latter part of the 1990s. He says this was mainly due to the Balkan wars which sent millions of people fleeing. He says now that peace has come to the region, many of the refugees are returning home.