Asylum applications in industrialised countries continue to plummet

News Stories, 19 September 2006

© UNHCR/Electronic Publishing Unit

GENEVA, September 19 (UNHCR) The downward trend in asylum applications in most industrialised countries continues unabated, according to the latest UNHCR statistical report.

Based on provisional data provided to UNHCR by governments, the report released on Tuesday indicates that during the first six months of this year, a total of 134,900 asylum applications were submitted in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

"This represents a drop of 14 percent compared to the same period last year, when 156,300 applications were recorded. Asylum applications lodged during the first half of 2006 are 15 percent lower than the previous semester [July to December 2005], when 158,800 applications were registered," UNHCR's chief spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

The figures show that the perception, common in many industrialised countries, of a growing asylum problem is not supported by reality.

Last year, in fact, saw the lowest number of asylum seekers in industrialised countries since 1987. Figures for the first half of 2006 point to this year's number of asylum claims falling even lower than last year's.

"This can be attributed to a large extent to the introduction of more restrictive asylum policies across the continent, as well as to improved conditions in some of the main countries of origin of asylum seekers," said Redmond.

UNHCR has expressed concern that the drive to keep the number of asylum seekers as low as possible may be resulting in some genuine refugees being denied the protection they need.

A total of 97,000 new asylum applications were submitted in European countries during the first six months of this year, 19 percent fewer than during the corresponding period in 2005 (120,200) and 21 percent fewer than in the previous six months.

In the 24 countries of the European Union for which data are available, a similar trend was recorded, with a 20 percent fall in new asylum applications (89,200) compared with the first six months of last year (112,200) and a 21 percent drop compared with the previous semester.

Over the past few years, 80 percent of asylum requests in industrialised countries were made in Europe. Europe's share has now declined to roughly 70 percent of asylum applications in the 36 industrialised countries included in the UNHCR report.

At the same time, North America's share has increased from about 20 percent of all applications in industrialised countries to nearly 30 percent during the first semester of this year, mainly as a result of fewer people applying for asylum in Europe. The share of Australia and New Zealand has remained fairly stable at about 1 percent of all applications in industrialised countries.

The United States received the largest number of asylum applications 25,500, or 19 percent, of the total number of applications lodged in industrialised countries, followed by France (16,400), the United Kingdom (13,900), Germany (10,600) and Canada (10,100).

The main countries of origin of asylum applicants were China (8,800), followed by Iraq (8,500), Serbia and Montenegro (8,000), the Russian Federation (6,900) and Turkey (4,600). Among the few nationalities recording a rise in applicants were Iraqis, recording a 25 percent increase over the previous six months and up almost 50 percent over the same period a year ago.

By William Spindler in Geneva