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Dramatic drop in asylum figures for early 2004, reports UNHCR

Dramatic drop in asylum figures for early 2004, reports UNHCR

The number of asylum seekers in 29 industrialised countries fell by 16 percent for the period January to March this year, compared to the last quarter. This continues a downward trend that started in 2002.
4 June 2004

GENEVA, June 4 (UNHCR) - The number of people applying for asylum in industrialised countries continues to fall, according to statistics released by the UN refugee agency for the first quarter of this year.

On Friday, UNHCR unveiled asylum figures gathered from 29 industrialised countries between January 1 and March 31, 2004. The statistics show a sharp fall in asylum applications compared to the last quarter, continuing a downward trend that started in 2002.

Europe saw an 18-percent drop in applicants, with numbers falling by 15 percent in the 14 European Union countries listed. North America saw an 8-percent drop.

"This is the eighth quarter out of the last 10 during which the number of asylum applications has decreased," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. "It is also the first time in many years the quarterly number of asylum claims in the listed countries has fallen below 100,000."

A total of 92,700 asylum applications were submitted in the 29 countries between January and March, down 16 percent on the previous quarter, when 110,600 people made claims.

France received the highest number of applicants with 15,740 claims - a 7-percent decrease from the previous quarter. The second highest recipient was the United Kingdom, down 20 percent with 10,590 claims; followed by Germany, down 12 percent with 10,170 claims; and the United States, down 9 percent with 9,710 claims.

Among other major asylum countries, sizeable drops were recorded in Sweden, down 25 percent to 6,242; and Austria, down 24 percent to 5,920. Substantial drops were also recorded in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Poland and Slovakia.

UNHCR noted a spectacular decline in the number of Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers, and a sharp drop in Russian claims - mainly from Chechens.

Although Russians - most of whom are Chechens - remained the top group of asylum seekers (with 7,508 claims), their numbers were 26 percent down on the previous quarter.

Afghans and Iraqis - the two top groups in 2001 and 2002 - continued their spectacular decline and now lie in 11th and 12th place respectively. The number of Iraqis fell by 31 percent compared to the previous quarter, and Afghans by 29 percent. Comparing the first quarter of this year to the same period a year ago, Iraqi asylum seekers fell by 81 percent.

"In all, only five of the top 40 asylum-seeking nationalities actually increased in number," said Redmond, noting that the number of Algerians increased by 30 percent to 2,626, Haitians went up by 28 percent to 1,727, and Slovaks were up 109 percent to 1,052.