Afghans overtook Iraqis as the nationality with the largest number of asylum applicants in 2009, according to a report issued today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).Last year, 26,800 Afghans submitted asylum applications, a jump of 45 per cent from 2008 figures. Iraqis submitted some 24,000 claims in 2009, with Somalis coming at third with 22,600 applications. Russians, Chinese, Serbians and Nigerians also submitted large numbers of applications.UNHCR defines an asylum-seeker as an individual who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not been determined. A person is considered a refugee, the agency said, if he or she fulfils criteria set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention.In its annual report, UNHCR analyzes asylum levels and trends in the 27 European Union (EU) member States and more than one dozen other countries, including the United States, Canada, Turkey, Australia and Japan.It found that the overall number of asylum-seekers in industrialized nations remained constant in 2009, with 377,000 applications, with most originating from Asia and the Middle East.“The notion that there is a flood of asylum-seekers into richer countries is a myth,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Despite what some populists claim, our data shows that the numbers have remained stable.”The number of asylum applications rose in 19 countries, but fell in 25 others. The Nordic region saw a 13 per cent spike, receiving 51,000 requests, the highest in six years. By contrast, the number from Southern Europe dropped one third, down to 50,100 claims, with the greatest decreases recorded in Italy, Turkey and Greece.The US remained the main destination for the fourth year running, with 13 per cent of the claims, or 49,000 people, mostly from China. France came in second with 42,000 new applications, representing a 19 per cent increase from the previous year, due mainly to increasing claims from Serbian citizens originating mostly from Kosovo.Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany rounded out the top five destination countries, which together received nearly have of the total claims recorded in 2009. 23 March 2010Afghans overtook Iraqis as the nationality with the largest number of asylum applicants in 2009, according to a report issued today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).