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Friday, March 16, 2007

Iraqi refugees in Europe could double this year

The number of Iraqi refugees arriving in Europe is expected to double to 40,000 in 2007 based on trends from the first two months of the year, the UN refugee agency said Friday.

As the security situation has deteriorated in Iraq, European governments have come under increasing pressure to open their doors to asylum-seekers. Many are worried that an escalation of violence in 2007 could generate large waves of refugees.

"We're asking the European Union to take a consistent and generous approach to the needs of the refugees," said Judith Kumin, head of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Brussels.

About two million Iraqis have fled the bloodshed in their country since 2003, mainly to Syria and Jordan. An additional 1.7 million are believed to have been displaced within Iraq. Within Europe, most Iraqis have headed for Sweden, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Britain and Belgium.

UNHCR statistics show that 20,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in the EU last year.

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