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UN Report:  Number of Asylum Seekers in Europe Decreasing - 2002-05-31

The United Nations refugee agency has released a report contradicting the prevailing view in some European countries that they are being deluged by asylum seekers.

The number of people seeking asylum in Europe is decreasing instead of increasing. That is what officials of the UNHCR are saying. They note that the total number of asylum seekers arriving in the European Union last year was a little over half of what it was 10 years ago, when heavy fighting was taking place in Croatia and Bosnia.

UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville says most of the refugees now trying to enter Europe are from countries that are in turmoil, such as Iraq and Iran, as well as Somalia and the Republic of Congo. Mr. Colville believes refugees from these countries have genuine reason to fear for their safety.

"If you look at these statistics, you see very little support to the idea prevalent in several European countries that they are being deluged by fraudulent asylum seekers," he said. "That, to quote a common mantra in at least one country, 'the vast majority are bogus.' These statements are simply inaccurate and misleading."

Mr. Colville says it is important that European lawmakers have an accurate understanding of the refugee situation. The more they know about the actual plight of refugees, he says, the better chance they have of enacting laws that are fair to the refugees.

"UNHCR is concerned that the current debate in Europe is getting considerably overheated," he said. "If this results in rushed policy and lawmaking, it could have very dangerous results for future refugees, either in terms of gaining access to Europe at all or in getting a fair hearing and decent treatment once they are here."

Mr. Colville says it is wrong for European countries to blame their immigration problems on very deserving refugees, especially when asylum-seekers make up only a small part of the overall immigration picture in Europe.