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Number Of Asylum Seekers Plunges To 1987 Level

Number Of Asylum Seekers In Industrialized Countries Plunges To 1987 Level

The average number of people seeking asylum each month in over two dozen industrialized countries has plummeted to a low point not seen in 17 years, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

"The total number of claims in all 30 industrialized countries during the first six months of 2004 is 22 percent lower than during the first half of 2003," spokesman Rupert Colville told a press briefing in Geneva. "The monthly average for the first half of this year is at its lowest level since 1987."

France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria were the top five countries of asylum during the period, he said.

The 25 European countries included in the report received 147,340 claims during the first six months of this year, a drop of 18 per cent compared to the same period last year, Mr. Colville said.

Among the 20 EU member countries, the 14 older members of the European Union (EU) included in the report fell by 20 per cent compared to the same six-month period last year.

The six newer EU States, however, saw an increase of 31 per cent during the first six months of this year and together formed the only region to show a major increase during the second quarter of 2004, Mr. Colville said. Japan experienced an increase in both quarters.

In the second quarter, applications in Cyprus went up 90 per cent to 2,110, mainly from Bangladeshis who had entered the country on student visas. Slovakia's applications went up 52 per cent to over 3,800 and Poland's went up 34 per cent to 1,770. In all three cases the rise cancelled out much of the decreases of the previous quarter, he said.

Russians - most believed to be Chechens - were the largest group seeking asylum, with 7,310 during the second quarter, he said. People from Serbia and Montenegro were in second place, followed by Chinese, Turks and Indians.

The numbers of Afghans and Iraqis continued to decline, but less sharply than over most of the past year. The number of Somalis also fell heavily for the third quarter running, Mr. Colville said.

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