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Iraq War Fuels Rise In Asylum Seekers

War In Iraq Fuels Rise In Asylum Seekers In Australia, New Zealand, And Industrialized World

By Andreas von Warburg – Reporting from New York

In five years, the war in Iraq has cost the world thousands of lives and more than half a trillion dollars. For a majority of people – Americans included -, today marks the fifth anniversary of the start of a war that was not worth fighting. For the many Iraqis uprooted by the conflicts, a five year of hell, marked by a spike in asylum seekers trying to have a better life in the industrialized world.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 338,000 new applications for refugee status were submitted last year in 43 industrialized countries, a large increase due mostly to the rise of applications from Iraq, where a total of over 45 thousand people contributed to a global increase of 10 percent compared to 2006.

Last year, 306,300 asylum claims were registered around the world, the lowest number of asylum applications in 20 years.

"The overall downward trend in asylum applications was offset last year by a large increase in the number of asylum seekers from Iraq,” reads the report. “For the second year running, Iraqis topped the list of asylum seekers in the world's industrialized countries."

The number of Iraqis applying for asylum almost doubled in one year, from 22,900 in 2006 to 45,200 last year.

Apart from Iraq, the other top five countries of origin of asylum applicants in 2007 were the Russian Federation (18,800), China (17,100), Serbia (15,400) and Pakistan (14,300). Other groups recording a significant rise in applications last year were Pakistanis (up 87 percent), Syrians (up 47 percent) and Somalis (up 43 percent).

The Geneva-based UN agency said it was important to bear in mind, however, that Iraqi asylum seekers in industrialized countries represented only 1 percent of the estimated 4.5 million Iraqis uprooted by the conflict.

“These include more than 2.5 million people displaced within Iraq and another 2 million Iraqis in neighboring countries such as Syria and Jordan, which are not included in the industrialized country statistics,” the report says. While the United States was the main country of destination for asylum seekers of all nationalities in 2007, with an estimated 49,200 new asylum claims in 2007, the trend observed in Australia and New Zealand is quite similar.

“After the latest peak in 2000-2001 where on average 14,000 individuals submitted an asylum claim annually, the numbers started decreasing sharply and in 2005 reached the lowest level since 1989 (1,600 claims),” the report says. “Levels started to increase again shortly afterwards and by 2007 stood at some 4,200 claims, 11 per cent or 400 claims more than the year before. It is primarily individuals from China, India and Sri Lanka who request refugee status in Australia and New Zealand.”

The report shows that a total of 246 Iraqis have applied as asylum seekers in Australia and New Zealand in 2007, up from 222 in 2006. Iraq is the fourth provider of asylum seekers to Australia and New Zealand, after China (1,239 in 2007), India (470), and Sri Lanka (356).


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