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Sweden heads world asylum league

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12:09 CEST+02:00
Sweden received more asylum applications than any other country in the world apart from the United States in the first six months of this year, with Iraqis making up the bulk of requests.

Some 17,700 people applied for asylum in Sweden between January and June, a rise of 14 percent on the last six months of 2006, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The United States led the asylum application league in absolute terms, with 26,800 requests received.

Per head of population number of asylum seekers was much higher in the case of Sweden (population 9 million) than in the US (population 301 million).

More than half the asylum requests received in Sweden were from Iraqis. The 9,300 Iraqis who sought asylum in Sweden accounted for more than half of the Iraqi asylum applications worldwide.

The large number of Iraqis seeking asylum worldwide reflects continued violence in their homeland, the UNHCR said.

"If current trends are maintained, by the end of the year the number of Iraqi asylum seekers might reach the levels witnessed between 2000 and 2002, when an average of 40,000-50,000 Iraqi sought asylum each year in the 36 industrialized countries."

The UNHCR puts the popularity of Sweden down to the country's large Iraqi community and its "strong social network."

The figures were based on statistics provided by national governments. IN the league table of international asylum applications, Sweden was followed by Greece, which had 14,700 new asylum applications. France was fourth, the UK fifth and Canada sixth.

Sweden's Migration Board has recently reclassified the Iraqi conflict, deciding that it does not constitute a war, theoretically opening the way for asylum applications to be refused. In practice, however, many Iraqis are still being granted asylum.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that each case would be tried on its merits.

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