The number of people seeking asylum in industrialised countries in 2003 has fallen, with EU countries recording a particularly substantial drop.
BBC News, Feb. 24
A report by the UN’s refugee agency reveals that the number of asylum seekers arriving in the world’s richest 36 countries fell by 20% overall.
This is the lowest number since the end of the Bosnia conflict.
The UNHCR hopes the new figures will encourage EU member states to focus on the need to protect refugees.
In 2003 Britain received the largest number of applications — 61,050 including dependents. But this was a reduction of 41% on the previous year.
The US, which was just behind with 60,700 applications, also received fewer applicants on 2002.
Russians make up the largest number of asylum seekers — most of them are believed to come from the Republic of Chechnya.
Applications from Iraqis, who were the largest group in 2002, has fallen by 50%. There were similar decreases in applicants from Angola and Sierra Leone.
The UNHCR attributes the drop to improved conditions to improved conditions in countries such as the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
But the agency warns that stability in many areas remains fragile and requires continued international support.
The forthcoming expansion of the European Union has made the issue of asylum seekers a major political topic for countries within the current union.
There are suggestions that large numbers of people from the former communist states will be tempted by jobs with higher wages and more generous benefits in the existing member states.
The UN Refugee Agency is concerned that genuine refugees are being forgotten amid this recent controversy.
A UNHCR spokesman, Rupert Colville, told the BBC the “highly politicised” debate on immigration was damaging the case of genuine asylum seekers.
“In the last few years, unfortunately, and sometimes deliberately I would say, the picture has been distorted by some media — tabloids in Britain, for example — by some politicians,” he said.
“It’s become more of a kind of anti-foreigner issue, rather than a pure refugee issue.”