While developing countries have produced 86 per cent of the world’s refugees over the past decade, they also proved to be a safe haven for seven out of ten of those seeking asylum, according to a new statistical yearbook released today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).The first annual “UNHCR Statistical Yearbook” notes that while rich countries have been voicing increasing concern over the numbers of asylum seekers arriving on their borders, it is mainly poor nations that have been providing asylum to nearly three-quarters of the world’s refugees over the past 10 years.High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said the Yearbook would be a valuable tool for those researching the evolution of global forced displacement, the nexus between asylum and migration, and the sharing of burdens and responsibilities. “Above all,” Mr. Lubbers writes in the Yearbook, “I hope it will provide a more solid underpinning for the current refugee and asylum debate, and that it will contribute to informed policy and decision-making.”According to UNHCR, the number of refugees between 1997 and 2001 has hovered around 12 million after dropping by nearly a quarter compared to the previous five-year period. While the total number of refugees has remained relatively stable recently, their geographic distribution has shifted.The Yearbook shows that Asia has produced and hosted a larger share of the world’s refugees since the mid-1990s, while the number of refugees originating from and hosted by African countries has fallen. In 2001, Afghans made up one-third of the world refugee population and were also the major nationality of origin of asylum seekers in industrialized countries, although over 1.7 million Afghan refugees have recently returned home and asylum applications from Afghans have dropped sharply.Last year, asylum applications in industrialized countries rose by 8 per cent. While Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Japan received 31 per cent more applications and Central Europe recorded a 33 per cent increase, the 15 European Union member countries together saw a one percent decrease in applications.The Yearbook also says the number of new refugee outflows since the early 1990s has declined by 38 per cent and that fewer refugees are crossing international borders, but warned that the plight of internally displaced people may well have become worse.