The number of Iraqis seeking asylum in industrialized states during the first half of this year more than doubled from the same period last year, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday. Some 19,800 Iraqis requested asylum in 36 Western countries between January and June, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said. There were 8,500 in the first half of 2006.
Sweden was the most popular destination for Iraqi asylum seekers, with nearly half of the applications filed this year in industrialized countries, UNHCR said. "The large Iraqi community and its strong social network in Sweden might be part of the reasons for the high concentration of Iraqi asylum seekers going to that country," spokesman Ron Redmond said.
Greece was No. 2 with some 3,500 asylum requests, followed by Spain with 1,500 and Germany with 820.
Only 385 Iraqis sought asylum in the United States. According to the AP, Redmond said the number was low in part because the U.S. is so far from Iraq.
The agency's figures reflect only the number of refugee applications filed and do not indicate how many requests were accepted. UNHCR said 2.2 million Iraqis are now living outside their homeland, mostly in neighboring countries not included in the industrialized country statistics. About 1.5 million are in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 150,000 in Egypt, 50,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Turkey.
The Bush administration said this week that it intended to sharply increase the number of Iraqi refugees it admits next year.