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Industrialized countries record steady fall in asylum claims
Continuing a downward trend in asylum numbers, fewer people have applied for asylum in 36 industrialised countries in the first three months of this year compared to the last quarter and over same period last year, said the UN refugee agency.
Releasing the first-quarter asylum statistics in 36 industrialised countries, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the total of 81,900 asylum applications between January and March 2005 was down 13 percent compared to the last quarter of 2004, and 17 percent compared to the first three months of last year.
In Europe as a whole, the number fell by 15 percent compared to the last quarter of 2004, and by 18 percent compared to the first quarter last year. In the 24 European Union countries included in the report, the decreases were 14 percent and 15 percent respectively. The 10 new EU countries received 6,000 asylum applications, a dramatic 46 percent drop from the last quarter.
In North America, the drop was relatively modest Ц 7 percent Ц compared to the last quarter of last year, and 11 percent down on the first quarter of last year.
The fall is even more striking when seen over a two-year period: compared to the first quarter of 2003, the EU is down 31 percent, Europe as a whole is down 34 percent and North America is down 40 percent. Australia and New Zealand Ц which between them receive less than one percent of the total Ц are down 44 percent compared to the first three months of 2003.
Most major individual receiving countries have experienced substantial drops over the same two-year period, with Austria down 36 percent compared to the first three months of 2003, Canada down 53 percent, Germany down 55 percent, Sweden down 47 percent, Switzerland down 60 percent, and the United Kingdom down 57 percent.
France remained the top receiving country during the first quarter, with 15,700 asylum applications (virtually identical to the first quarter of last year, but 10 percent more than during the first quarter of 2003). The second largest receiving country was the United States, with 13,600 applications, followed by the United Kingdom with 8,260 and Germany with 6,660.
Greece was the only receiving country to see a major increase in the first quarter of this year Ц up 177 percent to 2,816. Most of this increase is accounted for by Georgians, 992 of whom applied for asylum in Greece in the first quarter of this year compared to only 16 in the last quarter of 2004.
"However, we understand that the increase in the number of applications in Greece is at least partly due to a change in the system, resulting in a quicker registering of cases Ц including some who may already have been in Greece for a long time Ц rather than to a sudden rise in the number of people actually arriving in the country over the first three months of this year," explained Redmond.
Asylum seekers from Serbia and Montenegro (who include Kosovars) were the biggest group during the first quarter of 2005, although they have fallen by 13 percent compared to the same period last year. The Russian Federation has dropped to second spot, with asylum numbers Ц mostly from Chechnya Ц down 42 percent compared to the previous quarter, their lowest quarterly total in almost three years. Most other major groups have dropped in numbers, with the exception of Georgians who are up 16 percent, and Haitians, up 19 percent.