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UN Reports Asylum Seeking Decline in Industrialized Countries - 2003-09-02

The U.N. Refugee Agency says the number of people seeking asylum in 29 industrialized countries has declined significantly.

The U.N. Refugee Agency calls its latest report very good news. It says the number of people seeking asylum is dropping considerably and that means fewer people feel the need to flee from repressive governments.

The report shows a 12 percent drop in the number of asylum applications in 29 industrialized countries during the past three months. UNHCR spokesman, Rupert Colville, says this is largely due to the dramatic decrease in the numbers of Iraqis seeking asylum.

"There are 43 percent fewer Iraqis in the past three months, in April, May, June, compared to the first three months of the year and the first three months of the year was already a drop compared to the last year," he said. "But, obviously, if instability gets worse across the country or even stays at a high level, you might expect to see the number of Iraqis going up again. We hope not, but it has to be a possibility."

Other significant decreases were found among Pakistanis and Turks. For the past year and a half, the number of Afghan asylum seekers has steadily fallen. But, the new statistics show their numbers have crept up again by 10 percent during the past quarter.

The report finds the sharpest increase in asylum applications was among people from the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Their numbers rose by 54 percent, making them the largest group overall.

The report says the Chechens mainly are going to Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and other countries in Central Europe.

Despite the overall drop in asylum seekers, Mr. Colville says this does not necessarily mean that industrialized nations will loosen their restrictions on people trying to enter their countries. "The fear of asylum seekers certainly should go down," he said. "The numbers are by no means large. But in some countries, asylum seekers have become a full-blown political issue, very often the top political issue. And as such, it takes on a life of its own and people are reluctant to drop a political issue from which they do rather well."

The report says the United Kingdom registered the most significant quarterly decreases in asylum seekers, followed by Spain, Ireland, Germany, and Sweden.

The number in North America also dropped by 12 percent. Despite this, the report notes the United States took over as the top receiving country among the industrialized nations.