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Afghans Led Asylum Seekers in 2001 - 2002-02-03

A new United Nations report shows more than 500,000 people applied for asylum in more than two dozen industrialized countries last year. The report by the U.N.'s refugee agency, UNHCR, analyzes data from European countries, plus Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

The report shows Afghans, for the first time, made up the largest group of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries last year. It says asylum applications from Afghans increased by 60 percent in 2001 over 2000.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says this puts Afghanistan at the top of the list of countries of origin for the whole year. "But the number of Afghans applying for asylum each month dropped off sharply toward the end of the year," he says. "After a peak of over 4,300 applications in October, the numbers dropped off over 2,700 in December as the situation changed dramatically on the ground in Afghanistan."

The statistical report shows the second largest number of applicants in 2001 came from Iraq, followed by Turkey.

It notes that refugees from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia used to comprise the first or second largest group of refugees throughout the 1990s. But last year, they dropped to fourth place.

The report shows a 10 percent increase in the number of asylum applications in industrialized countries in 2001 over the previous year.

It says applications rose by 38 percent in central European nations such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. The report explains that people often decide to apply for asylum in these countries because they are unable to reach western Europe.

Mr. Redmond says applications increased significantly in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, although they dropped by more than 10 percent in Australia. "But the Australian statistics provided by the government from September onward do not include asylum seekers who arrived at these offshore places and are being processed elsewhere, including Papua New Guinea and Nauru," he says.

The U.N. refugee agency data does not show how many applications for asylum were successful. A report for 2000 found that only 20 percent of asylum seekers were granted refugee status in industrialized countries.