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Asylum applications in industrialised world still falling, says UNHCR

Asylum applications in industrialised world still falling, says UNHCR

New figures released by the UN refugee agency have confirmed a downward trend in the number of asylum seekers in 29 industrialised countries. The United Kingdom saw the most significant drop in the second quarter of this year.
2 September 2003

GENEVA, Sept 2 (UNHCR) - The number of asylum seekers in industrialised countries has decreased almost across the board in the second quarter of this year, with Iraqi asylum applications seeing the biggest drop, said the UN refugee agency today.

On Tuesday, UNHCR released a report of asylum applications in 29 industrialised countries, excluding Italy, for the period between April and June this year. These countries saw a drop of 12 percent in asylum seekers, with 106,850 applications compared with 121,910 during the first three months of the year.

The latest figures show a pronounced downward trend in asylum applications in the industrialised world. Altogether, the number of applications during the first half of 2003 was 19 percent lower than during the first six months of 2002, and 22 percent lower than the second half of last year.

"Almost all the major countries of asylum are receiving fewer asylum seekers this year compared to last year," said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville. "Of the top 20 countries of origin, only four have shown a slight increase. All the others have decreased."

In the European Union, and in Europe overall, the new figures were the lowest since UNHCR started collecting quarterly data at the beginning of 1999. During the second quarter of this year, the EU countries saw a drop of 16 percent, to 66,260, following on from a 17 percent drop in the first quarter. The number in North America also dropped by 12 percent compared to the previous quarter.

Central Europe was the only region to show an increase of 27 percent - which, however, only translates into a difference of around 1,700 individuals. The biggest increases in this region were in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

By country of asylum, the most significant quarterly decreases were recorded in the United Kingdom (down 34 percent), Spain and Ireland (both down 31 percent), Germany (down 24 percent) and Sweden (down 22 percent).

Among the countries of origin, the most dramatic decrease was in the number of Iraqis seeking asylum - down 43 percent compared to the first quarter. However, Iraqis still remain the largest asylum-seeking nationality over the first six months of this year, at 17,500. This compares with 26,000 in the last six months of last year.

The biggest increase in asylum applications was among Russians, who rose 54 percent to become the largest group overall during the second quarter. The number of Russian applicants (which would include Chechens) rose particularly sharply in Austria and the Czech Republic.

During the first six months of this year, 12,700 Russians sought asylum in the 29 industrialised countries surveyed, while the figure for the whole of 2002 was around 20,000.