The number of asylum-seekers reaching the world’s developed countries fell again in the first three months of this year, continuing a downward trend documented over the past few years, according to new figures released today by the United Nations refugee agency.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a “spectacular decline” in the number of Iraqis, Afghans and Russians – who are overwhelmingly Chechens – seeking asylum led the way for a global fall in asylum claims.
Between 1 January and 31 March this year, there were 92,679 applications for asylum in the industrialized world – a 16 per cent drop on the previous quarter and more than 25 per cent below the same quarter last year.
The latest data maintains a steady trend that began in 2002. Last year, asylum-seeker numbers had already fallen to their lowest levels since 1997.
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing today in Geneva that “this is the eighth quarter out of the last 10 during which the number of asylum applications has decreased.”
Almost every one of the 29 countries measured by the UNHCR’s Population Data Unit reported sharp falls from the last quarter of 2003, with Europe recording an overall slump of 18 per cent, North America down 8 per cent, and Australia and New Zealand sliding by 7 per cent.
France was the biggest recipient nation, with 15,739 claims during the three months. But this was still a 7 per cent decrease on the previous period.
The United Kingdom was the second greatest recipient, followed by Germany, the United States, Canada and Sweden.
Russians remained the largest group seeking asylum, with 7,508 claims made between January and March this year. However this was 26 per cent below the previous quarter’s figure and the lowest amount in a year.
Iraqis and Afghans comprised the two biggest asylum groups in 2001 and 2002, but their numbers have dropped dramatically since then. The number of Iraqi asylum-seekers in the first quarter of 2004, for example, was 2,143 – 81 per cent below the figure from the corresponding period last year.