Asylum claims to reach eight-year high in 2011: UNHCR

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Asylum applications are expected to rise to an eight-year high in 2011, amid massive displacements arising from the Arab uprising and the Ivory Coast crisis, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.

Some 198,300 asylum claims were lodged in the first six months of the year, compared to 169,300 during the same period last year.

"As application rates normally peak during the second half of the year, UNHCR forecasts that 2011 may see 420,000 aplications by year's end -- the highest total in eight years," said the UNHCR.

The popular uprising in Tunisia led to 4,600 claims being lodged by the country's citizens, while Libyans put forward 2,000 asylum applications.

Ivorians made another 3,300 claims.

"2011 has been a year of displacement crises unlike any other I have seen in my time as High Commissioner," said Antonio Guterres, who heads the UNHCR.

"Their impact on asylum claims in industrialised countries seems to have been lower so far than might have been expected, as most of those who fled went to neighbouring countries," he noted.

Nevertheless, the claims in industrialised nations were up 17 percent compared to a year ago.

The United States remains the most popular destination for asylum seekers, with 36,400 claims recorded. It was followed by France with 26,100 and Germany with 20,100.

Meanwhile, Afghans continue to lodge the most applications for asylum, with 15,300 made in the first six months of the year.

The Chinese came next with 11,700 claims and Serbia with 10,300 claims.

© 2011 AFP

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