Asylum applications on the rise again

Iraqi refugees in Damascus wait to receive aid from international organisations Reuters

After falling for five years, the number of asylum applications in industrialised countries rose by ten per cent in 2007, the United Nations refugee agency reports.

This content was published on March 18, 2008

Switzerland, where numbers remained almost static, was in 11th place overall for the number of asylum applications it receives, comparable with Austria and Belgium.

The overall trend, which saw figures reach a 20-year low in 2006, has been reversed "largely because of an increase in the number of Iraqi asylum seekers", the UNHCR said.

Although applications from Iraqis in the 43 industrialised countries almost doubled from 2006 to 2007, their share is not equally distributed. In Switzerland the total of Iraqis only increased by 15 per cent in this period to reach 953.

The United States, Sweden and France are the top three destination countries for asylum seekers. When the number of applications per capita are calculated, Switzerland is ranked sixth.

However, Yann Golay of the Swiss Refugee Council told swissinfo that international comparisons were not always clear cut.

"You have to be very careful with international comparisons of statistics because different countries count applications differently. Switzerland, for example, has always counted children born after arrival in the country as new asylum applications."

The UNHCR said that the figures were based on information provided by governments.

Most Iraqis remain

The refugee agency added that it was important to bear in mind that Iraqi asylum seekers in industrialised countries represented only one per cent of the estimated 4.5 million Iraqis uprooted by the conflict.

"These include more than 2.5 million people displaced within Iraq and another two million Iraqis in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan, which are not included in the industrialised country statistics," the statement said.

In response to the refugee crisis in Iraq's neighbours, the UNHCR has asked the international community to take in contingents of refugees. The Swiss government turned down a request in May last year.

"The appeal for resettlement places in third countries, including Switzerland, is still ongoing," a spokesperson for UNHCR's Swiss liaison office told swissinfo.

Appeals to Switzerland

According to Golay, the Swiss Refugee Council has also been calling on Switzerland to be more generous in admitting groups of refugees.

"A policy of taking in resettlement groups would have its place considering how few Iraqis are currently being accepted into Switzerland," he said.

"Switzerland has not done this on a significant scale since the mid-1990s. We have asked Switzerland to re-adopt this policy, particularly in the case of Iraqis, some two million of whom are living outside their country in very difficult conditions with very little support."

After Iraqis, the next largest nationality group of asylum seekers in industrialised countries is citizens of the Russian Federation, followed by China and Serbia.

The largest single nationality group of asylum seekers in Switzerland in 2007 was Eritreans (1,662), followed by Serbs (953) and Iraqis.

In brief

The number of industrialised countries counted by the UNHCR for this report now stands at 43, as compared with 37 previously.

The newly included countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Some 338,000 new applications for refugee status were submitted last year in the 43 industrialised countries.

This was a 10 per cent rise compared to 2006, which saw the lowest number of asylum applications in 20 years.

Iraqis accounted for 45,200 of the 2007 figure, or one per cent of the total number of Iraqis forced from their homes by the conflict in their country.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced within Iraq and another 2 million Iraqis have taken refuge in neighbouring countries, in particular Syria and Jordan.

End of insertion

Asylum applications

The industrialised countries that lodged the most asylum applications in 2007 were:

The United States: 49,200
Sweden: 36,200
France: 29,900
Canada: 28,300
Britain: 27,900
Greece: 25,110
Germany: 19,160
Italy: 14,050
Austria: 11,880
Belgium: 11,120

Switzerland was in 11th place with 10,390.

End of insertion
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