Asylum-seeker numbers nearly halved in last decade, says UNHCR

News Stories, 28 March 2011

© UNHCR
Asylum applications lodged in 44 industrialized countries, 2001-2010

GENEVA, March 28 (UNHCR) New figures compiled by the UN refugee agency have shown a dramatic fall in the number of asylum-seekers in the industrialized world over the last 10 years.

On Monday, UNHCR released the 2010 statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries. In all, 44 industrialized countries* were covered in the report on new asylum claims.

A total of 358,800 asylum applications were lodged in industrialized countries in 2010, which was 5 per cent fewer than in 2009. The latest number was the fourth lowest in the last decade and almost half (42 per cent) of the 620,000 applications filed in 2001.

"The global dynamics of asylum are changing. Asylum claims in the industrialized world are much lower than a decade ago while year-on-year levels are up in only a handful of countries," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "We need to study the root causes to see if the decline is because of fewer push factors in areas of origin, or tighter migration control in countries of asylum."

Most regions, including Europe, North America and North Asia, reported year-on-year decreases. Within Europe, the largest decline (-33 per cent from 2009) was seen in countries in the south, mainly because fewer people requested protection in Malta, Italy and Greece. This decline was offset by increases elsewhere, especially in Germany (49 per cent), Sweden (32 per cent), Denmark (30 per cent), Turkey (18 per cent), Belgium (16 per cent) and France (13 per cent). In the Nordic countries, the increases in Denmark and Sweden were offset by significant declines in Norway (-42 per cent) and Finland (-32 per cent).

© UNHCR
Asylum claims submitted in 10 major receiving countries 2010

Australia received 8,250 applications a 33 per cent increase compared to 2009, but down more than a third from 2001. The 2010 figure was well below levels reported by other industrialized and non-industrialized countries, putting Australia at 15 on the list of asylum receiving industrialized countries last year.

The top five asylum receiving countries in 2010 were: the United States, France, Germany, Sweden and Canada. Together, they accounted for more than half (56 per cent) of all asylum applications covered in this report.

With 55,530 applications in 2010, the US was the largest recipient country. It saw a 13 per cent increase from 2009, partly due to a rise in the number of Chinese and Mexican asylum-seekers. France maintained its second-place position with 47,800 applications, followed by Germany (41,330).

Both countries saw an increase in applications partly due to a rise in asylum-seekers from Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This development was widely attributed to the introduction of visa-free entry to the European Union for nationals of these two countries since December 2009.

Serbia (including Kosovo) was the main source of asylum-seekers last year. It was responsible for 28,900 applications, an increase of 54 per cent compared to the previous year, when the country ranked sixth. Interestingly, the number of asylum applications in 2010 was comparable to 2001, soon after the Kosovo crisis.

Afghanistan slid to second place with a decrease of 9 per cent compared to the previous year. Chinese asylum-seekers made up the third-largest asylum group in 2010, partly due to a substantial drop in the number of new applications from Iraq and Somalia. For the first time since 2005, Iraq was not one of the top two countries of origin of asylum-seekers. It dropped to fourth place, followed by the Russian Federation. Somalia, which was ranked third in 2009, fell to sixth place in 2010.

© UNHCR
Main nationalities of asylum-seekers 2010

The latest numbers should be seen in the context of recent emergencies in Côte d'Ivoire and Libya, noted High Commissioner Guterres. "Overall, it's still the developing world that is carrying the lion's share of responsibility for hosting refugees," he said. "Despite their many other challenges, countries like Liberia, Tunisia and Egypt have kept their borders open to people in need. I call upon all countries to support them."

*The 27 European Union countries, Albania, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.