UNHCR: more Iraqis seeking asylum in Western countries

By Xinhua

Geneva : Almost 20,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in Western countries in the first half of this year, up 45 percent on the previous six months, the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday.

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Using information provided by governments, the agency said about 19,800 asylum claims were lodged by Iraqis in 36 Western countries during the first half of 2007.

This figure, which reflects continuing violence in Iraq, more than doubles those for the first six months of last year, when a total of 8,500 asylum applications were submitted, a UNHCR statement said.

If current trends are maintained, by the end of the year the number of Iraqi asylum seekers might reach 40,000-50,000, the highest annual figure since 2002, the statement said.

Some 9,300 applications, or almost half of all Iraqi asylum requests during the first half of this year, were submitted in Sweden, UNHCR said.

Greece followed Sweden by registering some 3,500 asylum claims by Iraqis between January and June, while Spain and Germany recorded 1,500 and 820 applications respectively during the first half of 2007.

According the UNHCR, an estimated 2.2 million Iraqis are currently outside their strife-torn homeland, primarily in neighboring countries such as Syria and Jordan, which are not included in the industrialized country statistics.