Lower number of asylum-seekers raises questions for industrialized countries: UN

17 March 2006 – In the last five years, the number of asylum-seekers arriving in all industrialized countries has fallen by half, according to preliminary annual figures released today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who said this trend should spark reflection in the industrialized world about the fate of those in need of protection.

Asylum applications in 50 industrialized countries fell sharply for the fourth year in a row in 2005, reaching their lowest level in almost two decades, the agency said, attributing this to more stable situations in many areas of the world but also to increasingly restrictive asylum policies.

“These figures show that talk in the industrialized countries of a growing asylum problem does not reflect the reality,” said High Commissioner António Guterres.

“Indeed, industrialized countries should be asking themselves whether by imposing ever tighter restrictions on asylum-seekers they are not closing their doors to men, women and children fleeing persecution.”

UNHCR said that since 2001, applications for asylum in 50 industrialized countries have declined by 49 per cent. Last year, 336,000 asylum applications were submitted – 15 per cent fewer than in 2004.

It added that the total number of asylum-seekers arriving last year in the 38 industrialized countries for which comparable, long-term historical statistics are available was the lowest since 1987, at 331,600. In the 25 countries of the European Union, as well as in Europe as a whole, the number of asylum-seekers last year was the lowest since 1988.

“With the numbers of asylum-seekers at a record low, industrialized countries are now in a position to devote more attention to improving the quality of their asylum systems, from the point of view of protecting refugees, rather than cutting numbers,” said Mr. Guterres.

“Despite public perceptions, the majority of refugees in the world are still hosted by developing countries such as Tanzania, Iran and Pakistan.”

UNHCR chief spokesperson Ron Redmond said a combination of factors has contributed to the downward trend in the number of asylum applications.

“Improvements in the situation in some regions of origin of asylum-seekers, such as the Balkans, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, is an important factor. But the imposition of ever more restrictive asylum policies in the industrialized world has undoubtedly also played a role.”

“In this respect, we are concerned that the drive to keep the number of asylum-seekers as low as possible may be resulting in some genuine refugees being denied the protection they need,” Mr. Redmond added.

Despite a 15 per cent drop in asylum claims last year, France was the top receiving country in 2005, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany – the leading asylum country in Europe for much of the 1980s and 1990s – in fourth place.

The largest drop in the number of asylum seekers in the last five years was recorded outside Europe. Canada and the United States received 54 per cent fewer asylum requests in 2005 than in 2001, while asylum applications in Australia and New Zealand plummeted by 75 per cent in the same period.

The largest group of asylum-seekers in 2005 was from Serbia and Montenegro, including people from Kosovo; followed by the Russian Federation, including those from Chechnya. China remained the third largest country of origin for asylum seekers, followed by Iraq and Turkey.

Of the ten leading asylum-seeker nationalities, Iraqis and Haitians rose the sharpest in 2005, both by 27 per cent, while the number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Turkey continued to fall steadily.

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