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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 10:32 GMT
Asylum falling around the world
Asylum seekers recently arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa
The number of asylum seekers coming to the industrialised world fell by a fifth in 2004 to its lowest level in 16 years, according to the United Nations.

The refugee agency says applications fell by 40% since a high in 2001.

Between 2003 and 2004, France became the top receiving nation, followed by the US, UK and Germany. In terms of applications per head, Cyprus was top.

The European Union as a whole recorded 19% fewer requests for asylum in 2004 - the lowest level in almost a decade.

"In most industrialised countries, it should simply not be possible to claim there is a huge asylum crisis any more," said Raymond Hall, head of the UN refugee agency's Europe bureau.

The peak was 2001 when more than 655,000 people sought asylum in industrialised nations.

But the UN's latest figures, based on data coming from each of the 50 richest industrialised nations, show the number of asylum applications fell from 508,000 in 2003 to 396,400 in 2004.

Falls in Europe

Within Europe, asylum applications fell from just under 400,000 to 314,300 over the year. Requests fell in most nations, but reached highs in Cyprus, Finland, South Korea, Malta, Poland and Slovakia.

Read key points and see graphs from the 2004 asylum report

North America recorded a quarter fewer asylum requests while the drop was higher still for Australia and New Zealand.

However, disproportionately large drops in requests were recorded within some EU member states.

Arrivals to the UK fell by 33% compared with the EU average of 19%. In Germany the fall was 30% and in Italy it was an estimated 26%.

France became the largest receiving nation after witnessing a slight rise in applications. The USA, top of the table last year, moved to second place while the UK fell to third.

An alternative measure, comparing arrivals to the number of inhabitants, found Cyprus received the most asylum seekers - 12.4 per 1,000 of its residents.

The UK received 0.7 asylum seekers per 1,000 residents, placing it 15th in the list and marginally above the EU average.

Looking at figures for 2000 to 2004, the United States received the highest overall number of requests - 411,700.

The UK came second, and therefore the highest for Europe, with 393,800 asylum applications, followed by Germany (324,200) and France (279,200).

Nationalities drop off

The UN says there has been a drop in applications from all the top 10 asylum nationalities, reflecting changing world circumstances.
2000: 605,440
2001: 655,130
2003: 508,070
2004: 396,380
Change 03-04: -26%
(Requests to 50 industrialised nations)
Source: UNHCR

The Russian Federation continues to produce the most asylum applicants in the industrialised world, followed by Serbia and Montenegro and China.

However, the number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq continued to fall - the two nations formerly having produced some of the largest movements of people into Europe in recent years.

The number of Afghans seeking asylum has dropped by 83% since 2001 while Iraqi asylum applications have fallen by 80% since 2002. These falls have coincided with regime changes in both countries.

Only five of the top 40 asylum nations recorded an increase - people from Haiti, Azerbaijan, Algeria and Moldova.

The UN's Raymond Hall said he hoped the recorded fall in numbers would enable countries to improve the quality of their asylum systems, "from the point of view of protecting refugees, rather than just cutting numbers.

"The EU could also take a giant step forward by working towards a system of responsibility and burden sharing, so that next time there is a crisis they are in a much better position to help the worst affected among them."


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