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Afghans make up largest number of asylum seekers in 2001, UN agency reports

Afghans make up largest number of asylum seekers in 2001, UN agency reports

Afghans made up the largest percentage of the more than half a million people who applied for asylum last year in 27 industrialized countries, according to a new report released today by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The number of Afghans seeking asylum in 2001 increased 60 per cent over the previous year, UNHCR said in the report, which analyses refugee data from 25 European countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Because the United Kingdom and Greece have provided only partial data for 2001, the two countries are excluded from much of the analysis.

However, the number of Afghans applying for asylum each month dropped off sharply towards the end of the year – after a peak of over 4,300 applications in October, the numbers dropped to 2,733 in December, the lowest monthly figure for the entire year.

Overall asylum requests last year rose 10 per cent compared to 2000, according to UNHCR. More than 510,000 people applied for refugee status in 2001, with the six Central European countries covered by the report showing a 38 per cent rise in applications. Meanwhile, the 13 European Union countries for which annual data is available showed only a 1 per cent increase – from 288,000 applications in 2000 to 290,500 last year. The trend continues a longer-term tendency, with applications in the 13 EU countries decreasing by 3 per cent since 1999, while Central European applications have surged by 76 per cent over the same time.

In the non-European countries, applications increased in the United States by 36 per cent, in Canada by 13 per cent, and in New Zealand by 11 per cent, according to UNHCR. In contrast, applications in Australia dropped by more than 10 per cent.

As for the countries of origin for those seeking asylum, Iraq came second behind Afghanistan, followed by Turkey. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which had been either the largest or the second largest country of origin since 1991, dropped to fourth place.

The largest relative increase from 1999 to 2001 among the top 40 countries of origin is in applications from Colombians, with five times as many applications than in 1999. In 2001 alone, Colombian applications were up 79 per cent over the previous year, to 12,500, moving it from the 18th largest country of origin to the eighth largest. In the 23 European countries with complete data, a large relative increase was seen in applicants from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with 5,600 applications in 2001, more than six times the number the previous year.

The biggest drops in annual applications were from nationals of Iran (down 50 per cent), Slovakia (down 38 per cent), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (down 36 per cent), and Albania (down 22 per cent).