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Asylum statistics, first quarter 2003

Briefing notes

Asylum statistics, first quarter 2003

27 May 2003

The industrialized country asylum statistics for the first three months of this year show a drop in numbers virtually across the board. Overall, the number of asylum seekers in industrialized countries fell by 16 percent in the first quarter of 2003 compared to the last quarter of 2002, according to new statistics compiled by UNHCR. Applications were also down compared to the same period last year, with 14 percent fewer claims than in the first quarter of 2002.

The 29 industrialized countries covered by the report, which excludes Italy, received a total of 121,700 asylum applications in the first quarter of 2003 compared to 144,400 in the previous quarter.

In Europe, applications fell to the lowest quarterly level in at least three years with a total of 94,300 claims filed, or 19 percent fewer than in the last quarter of 2002. The 14 EU countries listed (Italy's statistics are not yet available), together fell by over 17 percent. Central Europe saw an even bigger drop of 34 percent.

The United Kingdom saw the biggest drop in absolute numbers, with almost 10,000 fewer people claiming asylum than during the previous quarter, a decline of 32 percent. The last quarter of 2002 saw the arrival of 30,100 asylum seekers while 20,600 arrived in the first quarter of this year.

The only countries showing major increases in percentage terms were ones receiving relatively small numbers of asylum seekers in the first place. Of these, Greece was the most significant, with 700 more asylum seekers in the first quarter of this year, compared to the last quarter of 2002 - a rise of 47 percent. The next highest was Japan with a 23 percent increase - but that actually translates into a mere 13 extra asylum seekers.

There was a decrease in claims from almost all major asylum seeker nationalities. Iraqis remained the top group - with nearly twice as many applicants as any other nationality - although there were 17 percent fewer Iraqi applications than during the previous quarter. Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, China and the Russian Federation were the next largest groups of asylum seekers, although they too all showed an overall decrease. Claims from Afghans continued to decline sharply, dropping by one-third since the previous quarter. Last year, they had already plummeted by 51 percent compared to 2001. Afghans are now the eighth largest nationality of asylum seekers, down from sixth place in the last quarter of 2002.

In contrast, large percentage increases in asylum claims were seen from nationals of Pakistan (up 79 percent), Côte d'Ivoire (up 41 percent) and Indonesia (up 214 percent). The increase in Pakistani claims mostly reflects the surge in claims filed in Canada at the US-Canada land border following the imposition of a now-ended registration requirement for Pakistanis, along with some other nationalities, in the United States. The phenomenon has since subsided. Most of the increased claims from nationals of Côte d'Ivoire were lodged in France while the vast majority of the increased claims from Indonesians were lodged in the United States.

In Europe, only two of the top 40 nationalities showed an increase in percentage terms - asylum applications by nationals of Côte d'Ivoire rose by 34 percent and nationals of Congo Brazzaville by 1 percent. Two others - Nigerians and Pakistanis - remained steady, and the other 36 all decreased.