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Asylum Seekers Reach Lowest Level In 16 Years

Asylum Seekers In Industrialized World Reach Lowest Level In 16 Years, UN Reports

The number of asylum seekers arriving in industrialized countries fell sharply for the third year in a row in 2004 to its lowest level in 16 years, a development that should undermine public campaigns that seek tighter controls on immigration, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“This really should reduce the pressure by politicians, media and the public to make asylum systems more and more restrictive to the point where many genuine refugees have enormous difficulty getting access to Europe, or getting recognized once they are there,” said Raymond Hall, Director of the Europe Bureau of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“In most industrialized countries it should simply not be possible to claim there is a huge asylum crisis any more,” he added.

At 368,000, the total number of asylum seekers arriving last year in the 38 industrialized countries for which comparable historical statistics are available was the lowest since 1988. In the six non-European countries, the total was the lowest since 1986. The numbers arriving in Europe are also back down to the levels of the late 1980s, although still higher than they were for a couple of years in the mid-1990s.

Asylum claims in industrialized countries last year fell by 22 per cent, reflecting a similarly steep decline in 2003. In the European Union (EU), the number fell by 19 per cent, in North America by 26 per cent and in Australia and New Zealand by 28 per cent.

France was the top receiving country in 2004, with an estimated 61,600 asylum seekers. The United States, which was the top receiving country in 2003, came second with 52,400. Britain fell to third with 40,200, and Germany, the top asylum country in 13 of the past 20 years, was fourth with 35,600. Canada came in fifth with 25,500.

“Hopefully, with the numbers right down, most countries will now be able to devote more attention to improving the quality of their asylum systems, from the point of view of protecting refugees, rather than just cutting numbers," Mr. Hall said. “The EU could also take a giant step forward by working towards a system of responsibility and burden sharing, so that next time there is a crisis they are in a much better position to help the worst affected among them.”

The largest group of asylum seekers was from the Russian Federation with 30,100, the majority of them Chechens, followed by Serbia and Montenegro (22,300), many of them from Kosovo; China (19,700); Turkey (16,200) and India (11,900). The 10 leading asylum seeker nationalities all recorded a significant drop. Perhaps most striking, the number of Afghans, the top group in 2001 with more than 50,000, has fallen by 83 percent in the past three years. They now stand in 13th place with 8,800 asylum seekers in 2004.

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