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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 21:28 GMT
Asylum seekers: Europe's dilemma
BBC News Online unravels the myths that have grown up about asylum seekers flooding into Europe. Click on the links below to see what they can expect when they arrive at the main host countries.

UK | Germany | Netherlands | Belgium | France| Austria

Many asylum seekers pass from one European country to another before applying for asylum.

Although the European Union has been trying to harmonise its asylum procedures, there are still differences in the kind of reception an asylum seeker can expect.

The reasons for going to a particular country are numerous - and range from money to language and cultural links.

But asylum seekers are often accused of shopping around, and their applications for asylum are sometimes not considered on the grounds that they came through a "safe third country".

In 2000, just under 400,000 asylum seekers lodged applications for asylum in the 15 EU countries.

The biggest groups came from Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran - all countries from which there may, in the eyes of EU governments, be legitimate reasons to flee.

But only about a quarter of the asylum seekers were granted asylum status in 1999, the latest year for which there are figures.

By the end of the last decade, there were still 200,000 asylum applications pending in EU countries, more than half of which were in the UK.

The size of the backlog - and the subsequent time it takes for an application to be processed - is sometimes another factor in an asylum seeker's choice of country.

UK

Origin of asylum seekers, 2000
Iraq 7,080
Sri Lanka 6,040
Yugoslavia 5,695
Afghanistan 5,220
Iran 5,170
Source: UNHCR

In 2000, the UK received the largest number of asylum applications of any EU country, leading to fears that the country was being perceived as a "soft touch".

However, the number of asylum seekers who were recognised as genuine more than doubled to 72.5% between 1998 and 1999, undermining suggestions that most of the asylum seekers are bogus.

Key facts

  • Number of asylum applications 2000: 97,860
  • Recognition of asylum-seekers in 1999: 72.5%
  • Percentage granted refugee status in 1999: 12.1%
  • Cases still pending 1999: 102,870

Benefits

  • Asylum-seekers receive an allowance of roughly $176 a month (30 a week), two thirds of which is in vouchers.

  • They can apply for the right to work after six months, but if they find employment they lose their voucher benefits.

  • Asylum seekers must prove they are destitute to qualify for state accommodation. They can be housed either in hostels, local authority housing or detention centres across the country.

  • Asylum seekers have access to free health care. Expert psychological treatment for victims of torture is provided for asylum-seekers in London and south-east England.

  • Education is compulsory for children up to 16, and is free up to 18.

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Germany

Origin of asylum seekers, 2000
Iraq 11,721
Yugoslavia 11,274
Turkey 8,970
Afghanistan 5,399
Iran 4,886
Source: UNHCR
For years Germany admitted the largest number of asylum seekers of any EU country, but was overtaken by the UK in 2000.

In the last 10 years the number of asylum seekers in Germany has more than halved.

The backlog of cases pending has been reduced from over 80,000 in 1996 to approximately 40,000 at the beginning of 2000.

Key facts

  • Number of asylum applications 2000: 78,760
  • Recognition of asylum-seekers in 1999: 13.5%
  • Percentage granted refugee status in 1999: 11.3%
  • Cases still pending 1999: 65,860

Benefits

  • Monthly pocket money has been reduced to $38 (80DM). All other assistance is given in kind.

  • All asylum seekers are placed in reception centres where they stay for up to three months before being housed elsewhere.

  • Asylum seekers are examined for contagious diseases on arrival, but psychological assistance is hardly ever available at reception centres.

  • Aslyum seekers who have arrived since May 1997 do not have the right to work at any stage during the asylum determination process.

  • School is not compulsory, but children have the right to education if it is available. It is rare for children to be taught in their mother tongue, or to have extra German language lessons.

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Netherlands

Origin of asylum seekers, 2000
Afghanistan 5,055
Yugoslavia 3,851
Iraq 2,773
Iran 2,543
Turkey 2,277
Source: UNHCR
The Netherlands used to be fairly generous in comparison to other EU states in its treatment of asylum seekers, but has recently introduced stricter measures.

Asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands via another EU country are not entitled to accommodation in reception centres.

Key facts

  • Number of asylum applications 2000: 43,890
  • Recognition of asylum-seekers in 1999: 15.6%
  • Percentage granted refugee status in 1999: 2.5%
  • Cases still pending 1999: none

Benefits

  • Asyum seekers receive a one-off allowance, in addition to weekly pocket money and clothing allowing. If food is not provided at the residence centre, the allowance is equivalent to about $162 a month (39 euros a week).

  • All asylum seekers are placed in reception centres where they stay for the first three months before being housed in residence centres, hotels or boarding houses.

  • Asylum seekers are offered a general medical check-up on arrival, and can be referred to a specialist by the doctor at the reception centre.

  • Aslyum seekers are allowed to work for 12 weeks a year.

  • School is compulsory for children between five and 16, but asylum seekers are not entitled to advanced education. Dutch culture and language classes are usually provided at the residence centres.

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Belgium

Origin of asylum seekers, 2000
Yugoslavia 4,921
Russia 3,594
Iran 3,183
Albania 2,674
Source: UNHCR
For a small country, Belgium has a large number of asylum seekers.

It has more asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants than any other EU country. (It takes 4.2 asylum seeker per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to the UK's 1.7).

Key facts

  • Number of asylum applications 2000: 42,690
  • Recognition of asylum-seekers in 1999: 32.4%
  • Percentage granted refugee status in 1999: 32.4%
  • Cases still pending 1999: none

Benefits

  • Asylum seekers receive a one-off allowance, in addition to weekly pocket money and clothing allowing. If food is not provided at the residence centre, the allowance is equivalent to about $162 a month (39 euros a week).

  • Asylum seekers are normally assigned to either an open or closed reception centre on arrival, although they can obtain their own accommodation.

  • There is a mandatory test for tuberculosis, and an HIV test is recommended. Asylum seekers staying at reception centres qualify for free healthcare, and two specialised centres for psychological treatment have been set up.

  • Aslyum seekers have the right to work after their application has been received, and initial processing has been completed.

  • School is compulsory for children until the age of 18.

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France

Origin of asylum seekers, 2000
China 4,961
Turkey 3,529
DR Congo 2,903
Yugoslavia 1,976
Algeria 1,775
Source: UNHCR
The French government is struggling to find accommodation for the tens of thousands of asylum seekers that arrive in the country each year.

On average it takes about six months for an asylum seeker to be allocated to a reception centre. To qualify for a temporary residence permit asylum seekers need to make an appointment with the local authorities, for which there is a four month waiting list.

This discourages anyone who does not have friends or relatives in the country from even applying.

The UK has also complained that the French are not doing enough to stop asylum seekers crossing the border into the UK.

Key facts

  • Number of asylum applications 2000: 38,590
  • Recognition of asylum-seekers in 1999: 19.3%
  • Percentage granted refugee status in 1999: 19.3%
  • Cases still pending 1999: none

Benefits

  • Asyum seekers without friends or family in France usually have to struggle alone due to overcrowding at the reception centres. Many end up in homeless accommodation.

  • Asylum seekers receive a one-off allowance of $283, in addition to a monthly allowance of $255 for those not accommodated at reception centres.

  • There is a mandatory test medical test for asylum seekers staying admitted to reception centres. The larger centres provide psychological care once or twice a week.

  • Aslyum seekers have no access to the labour market.

  • School is free and compulsory for children until the age of 16. There are no specific integration programmes or state-sponsored language classes.

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Austria

Origin of asylum seekers, 2000
Afghanistan 4,205
Iran 2,559
India 2,441
Iraq 2,361
Yugoslavia 1,486
Source: UNHCR
Estimates suggest that only a third of all asylum seekers in Austria benefit from federal care.

Austria only provides federal care to those asylum seekers who are unable to provide for themselves through their own means and efforts.

Asylum seekers who are considered not to be in need include those in possession of a mobile phone, and those who are citizens of a member state of the Council of Europe.

Also asylum seekers who are absent from their accommodation for more than three days lose their entitlement to federal care.

Key facts

  • Number of asylum applications 2000: 18,280
  • Recognition of asylum-seekers in 1999: 56.6%
  • Percentage granted refugee status in 1999:41.7 %
  • Cases still pending 1999: 11.080

Benefits

  • Asyum seekers granted federal care are provided with accommodation in private pensions or federal-run centres. Otherwise they rely on non-profit organisations and night shelter.

  • Those on the federal care programme are entitled to a monthly allowance equivalent to $323 (348 euros).

  • There is a mandatory test for tuberculosis at reception centres.

  • Aslyum seekers receiving federal care may be employed in auxiliary activities directly connected with their accommodation (eg cleaning, maintenance)

  • School is compulsory for children between the ages 6 and 15. Children who do not speak German may take language classes for two years.

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See also:

03 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum vouchers spark protests
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