Afghans topped the list of asylum claimants to the world's richest countries in 2011, followed by Chinese and Iraqis, the U.N. refugee agency reported Tuesday.
Tunisians, Libyans and people from Ivory Coast saw the biggest annual rise, while the number of Pakistanis and Syrians applying for asylum also jumped noticeably.
Overall, asylum applications to the 44 industrialized countries surveyed rose 20 percent in 2011, to 441,300 from 368,000 the previous year. UNHCR said it was the highest figure since 2003.
More than 35,700 Afghans asked for asylum last year, a one-third increase compared to 2010. Many were fleeing poverty and persecution in Afghanistan ten years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban.
Asylum applications from Chinese citizens passed 24,400 last year, a 13 percent increase, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner said in its annual survey. About three in five Chinese applicants went to the United States.
Almost 23,500 Iraqis also claimed asylum in 2011, up 14 percent from the previous year. Like Afghans, they mostly went to Europe, particularly to Germany and Turkey.
Serbians, who submitted the highest number of applications in 2010, fell to fourth place last year. But Pakistan jumped from eighth to fifth place in the list of countries of origin for asylum seekers. UNHCR provided no explanation for the rise.
Conflicts and revolutions in Syria, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Libya and Egypt also drove up applications from those countries. Many from those nations fled to southern Europe, the global body said.