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Asylum requests to West drop to near 20-year low

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060317/ts_nm/un_asylum_dc Asylum requests to West drop to near 20-year low By Stephanie Nebehay Fri Mar 17, 8:01 AM ET GENEVA
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 17, 2006
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      Asylum requests to West drop to near 20-year low

      By Stephanie Nebehay Fri Mar 17, 8:01 AM ET

      GENEVA (Reuters) - Contrary to popular belief, the
      number of people seeking asylum in the West has halved
      over the last five years to the lowest level in nearly
      two decades, the United Nations refugee agency said on

      Asylum applications lodged in 50 industrialized
      countries fell sharply for a fourth year in a row to
      336,000 claims last year, the U.N. High Commissioner
      for Refugees (UNHCR) said. This was 15 percent lower
      than 2004.

      In Europe -- where far-right parties have whipped up
      fears of a flood of refugees -- the number of asylum
      seekers last year was the lowest since 1988, and total
      applications to Western countries fell to their lowest
      level since 1987.

      "These figures show that talk in the industrialized
      countries of a growing asylum problem does not reflect
      the reality," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
      Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

      "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," added Guterres, a former Portuguese
      prime minister.


      The drop partially reflects cooling conflict in the
      Balkans, West Africa and Afghanistan, which was once
      the top source of asylum seekers to the West, UNHCR
      spokesman Ron Redmond said.

      But he said that tighter asylum rules were another

      "There is also a concern about the increasing and more
      restrictive asylum policies across Europe. This has
      also, we fear, led to a lack of access to proper
      procedures for people seeking asylum," Redmond told a
      news briefing.

      UNHCR has previously warned that the EU's new
      directive on asylum, adopted in December, contains
      "serious deficiencies" and could lead to breaches of
      international refugee law.

      Most of the world's 9.2 million refugees are still
      hosted by developing countries -- led by Pakistan,
      Iran and Tanzania.

      Among Western nations, France was the largest
      destination for asylum seekers last year with 50,000
      new applications. The United States was next with
      48,800 applications, followed by Britain with 30,500
      and Germany with 28,900, UNHCR said.

      Asylum applications in the 25-member European Union
      dropped by 15 per cent last year compared to 2004,
      with sharp decreases logged in the 10 new member
      countries, it said.

      The biggest declines in asylum applications were
      recorded in Western countries outside Europe.

      Canada and the United States received 54 percent fewer
      requests in 2005 than in 2001, and applications in
      Australia and New Zealand plummeted by 75 percent in
      the same period.

      The largest number of asylum seekers last year came
      from Serbia and Montenegro, which includes Kosovo,
      followed by Russia where many have fled the breakaway
      region of Chechnya.

      Asylum applications from Iraqis and Haitians spiked 27
      percent each last year as insecurity and violence
      marred those countries, UNHCR said.

      (Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis in Geneva)
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