The following commentary originally appeared on Musings On Iraq
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released its latest report on asylum seekers for the first half of 2008. For the third year in a row, Iraq has the largest number of people asking for asylum in 44 industrialized countries. Iraq has been number one in this category since 2006. Before that, it had also been number one in 2000 and 2002 under Saddam Hussein’s rule. In total, 19,500 Iraqis applied to leave. Russia was second with 9,400 asylum seekers, followed by 8,700 from China, 7,400 from Somalia, 6,300 from Pakistan and Afghanistan each, 6,200 from Serbia, 5,200 from Mexico, 4,800 from Nigeria, and 4,600 from Iran. 60% of the Iraqis applied to go to four countries: Sweden (3,900 Iraqis), Germany (3,400), Turkey (2,700), and the Netherlands (2,400).
Overall, the number of Iraqis asking for asylum has decreased from 2007. In that year, 45,000 put in claims. The number for the first half of 2008 was a 10% decrease from the number of Iraqis applying in the first half of 2007, and an 18% decrease from the last half. The lowest number of claims came from April-June 2008. That could point to a trend of fewer Iraqis trying to flee their country for the remainder of 2008.
Iraq still has the largest on-going refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Palestinians. Approximately 4.7 million Iraqis have left their homes. In late 2007, Iraqis began to return to their homes, but only around 3% of the total have gone back so far. The number returning has gone up and down each month, and there are ongoing disputes about whether there are more leaving or returning.
Cohen, Robert, “Iraq’s Displaced: Where To Turn?” American University International Law Review, Fall 2008
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Asylum Levels and Trends In Industrialized Countries, First Half 2008,” 10/17/08