Afghans became largest group of asylum seekers despite drop in requests after Taliban defeat
GENEVA, Feb. 1 (UNHCR) - More than half a million persons applied for asylum last year in the industrialised world, with Afghans forming the single largest group despite a sharp drop in the number of requests following the defeat of the Taliban, a provisional study released by UNHCR said Friday.
The study said that more than 510,000 people applied for asylum in 27 industrialised countries in 2001, a ten percent increase over the previous year. Confirming a recent trend towards fewer applications, the number of asylum seekers in the 13 European Union countries included in the study rose by less than one percent. But the number of applications in five Central European nations, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand continued to increase.
The survey was limited to the number of applications submitted and does not include the number of asylum seekers and refugees whose requests were actually approved, UNHCR said. In 2000, only about 20 percent of asylum applications filed in industrialised countries were accepted. The United Kingdom, Greece and Italy were excluded from many of the statistics because of incomplete data.
Afghan citizens lodged about 42,100 asylum claims, a 60 percent increase over 2000. The sharp rise made Afghanistan the largest country of origin of asylum seekers with eight percent of the total, followed by Iraq and Turkey. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which had been either the largest or the second largest country of origin since 1991, dropped to fourth place.
The number of Afghans applying for asylum, which reached a peak in October with 4,300 requests, dropped sharply in the last few months of the year, with just 2,733 applications filed in December, the year's low.
"The numbers reflect the ongoing human rights situation in Afghanistan up until recently," said Bela Hovy, Head of UNHCR's Population Data Unit. Afghanistan was third in the number of applications filed in 1999 and 2000 after the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Iraq.
The rise in the number of Afghan applications directly affected the sharp increases in applicants registered in some countries. In Slovakia, for example, the 520 percent rise over two years "was primarily the result of the rise in applications submitted by Afghans," the report said. The 80 percent increase in applications in Bulgaria is mainly due to requests from Afghans and Iraqis.
Five European countries - Finland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Switzerland - recorded a decrease of 50 per cent or more last year compared with 2000, with the decline in the latter three the result of a drop from the "exceptionally high level of claims lodged by citizens from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999," according to the report.
Asylum applications with European Union countries in the study were down three percent from 1999 to 2001 despite a slight rise of less than one percent last year to 290,500 people. But there were increases in applications in France, Austria, Germany, Spain and Sweden.
Outside the E.U., six Central European countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) registered a 76 percent increase over the three-year period. Last year alone, asylum requests went up 38 percent in the six countries.
The four non-European countries in the study - Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand - showed rises in asylum applications of 23 percent last year and 65 percent during the 1999 to 2001 period.
Applications rose 36 percent in the United States last year, to 62,000 persons, with the largest increase in requests coming from Mexico, Colombia, and China. Australia showed a ten percent decline over the previous year, but the government's statistics used in the study did not include asylum seekers sent to offshore registration areas.
Colombians registered the largest relative increase from 1999 to 2001 among the 40 countries where the applicants originated, with five times more requests in 2001 than in 1999. Last year alone, Colombian applications, reflecting the continuing war between the government and guerrillas, shot up 79 percent from 2000.
Between 1999 and 2001, applications from Colombian citizens increased 421 percent, followed by Mexico, 234 percent, Hungary, 163 percent, and Guinea, 152 percent.