Conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia fuel increase in asylum seekers

News Stories, 24 March 2009

© UNHCR
Ten countries (United States, Canada, France, Italy, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Switzerland and Norway) received 73 percent of asylum applications in the industrialized world.

GENEVA, March 24 (UNHCR) Provisional statistics compiled by the UN refugee agency show that the number of asylum seekers in industrialized countries increased last year for the second year running.

"The increase can partly be attributed to higher numbers of asylum applications by citizens of Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries experiencing turmoil or conflict," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva on Tuesday. "Although the number of Iraqi asylum seekers declined by 10 percent in 2008, Iraqis continued to be the largest nationality seeking asylum in the industrialized world," he added.

The provisional UNHCR figures indicate that some 383,000 new asylum applications were submitted last year in 51 industrialized countries, a 12 percent rise compared to 2007, when there were some 341,000 applications. This is the second consecutive annual increase in the number of asylum seekers since 2006, when the lowest number of asylum applications in 20 years was registered (307,000).

The top country of origin of asylum applicants in 2008 was Iraq (40,500, down 10 percent from 45,100 in 2007), followed by Somalia (21,800), the Russian Federation (20,500), Afghanistan (18,500) and China (17,400). Of the 10 main nationalities claiming asylum last year, some remained stable while others registered significant increases.

Countries of origin recording a significant rise in applications included Afghanistan (up 85 percent), Zimbabwe (up 82 percent), Somalia (up 77 percent), Nigeria (up 71 percent) and Sri Lanka (up 24 percent). All of these countries experienced unrest or conflicts in 2008.

"The United States continued to be the main country of destination for asylum seekers of all nationalities in 2008, with an estimated 49,000 new asylum claims, accounting for 13 percent of all applications in industrialized countries," Redmond said, while adding: "Compared to the size of its national population, however, the United States had only one asylum seeker per 1,000 inhabitants, while the average in the European Union countries was 2.4 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants."

After the United States, the main countries of destination for asylum seekers in 2008 were Canada (36,900), France (35,200), Italy (31,200) and the United Kingdom (30,500).

© UNHCR
Top 10 origin countries: Iraq, Somalia, Russian Federation, Afghanistan, China, Serbia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Eritrea, Mexico.

Along with the rise in the overall total of asylum seekers over the last two years, the number of countries receiving applications has also increased. In 2004, for example, Iraqis applied for asylum in only seven industrialized nations (excluding countries receiving less than 500 applications), while in 2008 they applied for asylum in 14 countries.

This suggests that people seeking international protection are searching for it in a larger number of countries, possibly as a result of the introduction of stricter asylum policies in traditional asylum states. This was observed in Sweden, where more restrictive asylum policies led to a 67 percent drop in the number of asylum applications by Iraqis between 2007 and 2008. During the same period, the number of Iraqi asylum seekers in neighbouring Norway nearly trebled, and quadrupled in Finland, according to the latest statistics.

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Asylum-Seekers

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Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

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Summer, with its fair weather and calmer seas, often brings an increase in the number of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean and seek asylum in Europe. But this year the numbers have grown by a staggering amount. In the month of June, the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation picked up desperate passengers at a rate of more than 750 per day.

In late June, UNHCR photographer Alfredo D'Amato boarded the San Giorgio, an Italian naval ship taking part in the operation, to document the rescue process - including the first sighting of boats from a military helicopter, the passengers' transfer to small rescue boats and then the mother ship, and finally their return to dry land in Puglia, Italy.

In the span of just six hours on 28 June, the crew rescued 1,171 people from four overcrowded boats. Over half were from war-torn Syrian, mostly families and large groups. Others came from Eritrea and Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Bangladesh and beyond. D'Amato's images and the interviews that accompanied them are windows into the lives of people whose situation at home had become so precarious that they were willing to risk it all.

Rescue at Sea

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

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