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UN-UN-AsylumStatisti 03-24

UN: Soaring asylum demands from war-torn countries

By ELIANE ENGELER

Associated Press Writer

GENEVA (AP) — Fighting in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and other countries has led to an increase in people requesting asylum in industrialized nations, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.

Around 383,000 people applied for asylum in Europe, North America and other industrialized regions last year — 12 percent more than in 2007, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

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"The increase can partly be attributed to higher numbers of asylum applications by citizens of Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries experiencing turmoil or conflict," the agency said in a statement.

Most of the requests, or 40,500, came from Iraqis. But demands from Afghans rose 85 percent last year to 18,500.

Civil war and the 2001 U.S.-led invasion meant Afghanistan was one of the major sources of refugees until 2002. A spike in fighting, with 31 percent more security incidents in 2008 compared with the previous year, has led to an increase in new asylum demands, according to U.N. statistics.

Asylum applications from Zimbabweans were up 82 percent. The African nation was in deep political crisis last year with President Robert Mugabe unleashing a violent repression of opposition supporters. The former regional breadbasket now faces a hunger crisis, a cholera epidemic and shortages in gasoline, basic goods, power and water.

Asylum demands in 2008 increased by 77 percent from Somalia, which has been ravaged by war and chaos for nearly two decades. Demands from Nigeria went up 71 percent as violence between militants and government troops in the country’s oil-rich south intensified.

Sri Lankan asylum requests increased 24 percent last year after the government scrapped a cease-fire with Tamil rebels, renewing the civil war that has plagued the country since 1983.

The United States was the top destination, receiving an estimated 49,000 new asylum demands last year, UNHCR said. The agency did not give figures about how many applications were accepted.

The U.S. was followed by Canada, which received 36,900 requests, France (35,200), Italy (31,200) and Britain (30,500).

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Those fleeing are searching for a safe haven in more countries than before, probably because of tighter asylum policies in traditional destinations, the agency said.

Iraqi asylum applications to Sweden, for example, decreased 67 percent as a result of Sweden’s more restrictive asylum policy between 2007 and 2008. At the same time, Iraqi asylum demands nearly trebled in neighboring Norway and increased fourfold in Finland, UNHCR said.

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