GENEVA (Reuters) - The total of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries rose by 17 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2010, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.
It said the total for the year was likely to be more than double and the highest for eight years, partly reflecting crises in North Africa, the Ivory Coast and Somalia.
It put the number of asylum seekers from January to June at 420,000, up from 198,300 in the same period the previous year.
But in general the main flow came, as in past years, from Afghanistan, China, Serbia and breakaway Kosovo, Iraq and Iran, according to UNHCR's twice-yearly report, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries.
Afghans made 15,300 claims, Chinese 11,700, Serbs and Kosovars 10,300, Iraqis 10,100 and Iranians 7,600, it said.
The agency stressed that the figures covered only applicants for refugee status, many of whom are turned down and sent back to their countries of origin, and not those eventually granted asylum.
They also do not include migrants, legal or illegal.
From January to June, the United States had far more applications than any other single industrialized country with a total of 36,400. France was next with 26,100, followed by Germany with 20,100, according to the report.
Sweden, with 12,600, was fourth and Britain -- where many mainstream politicians have been demanding stricter conditions for granting asylum -- was fifth with 12,200 applications.
In developed Asian countries Japan and South Korea, asylum applications also doubled but were at a much lower level, reaching 1,300 for the two together against 600 in the first half of 2010.
But Australia, which has toughened its asylum policies, and New Zealand saw a nearly 20 percent drop, from 6,300 last year for both to 5,100 in 2011, according to UNHCR
(Reported by Robert Evans)