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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 11:48 GMT
UK asylum claims at '13-year low'
The number of people claiming asylum in the UK is at its lowest level for 13 years, according to the United Nations.

Provisional annual figures from the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) found 30,500 people sought refuge in the UK in 2005.

The UN's report into asylum in industrialised countries found France to be the top destination.

In all industrialised countries asylum numbers have shown a five-year fall, having halved since 2001.

According to the figures, based on official statistics from 50 industrialised nations, asylum levels in the UK are now back to levels not seen since 1993 and are 70% down on the record 103,000 applications seen in 2002.

Germany, another key destination for asylum seekers in Europe, has experienced similar falls, with its 2005 figure down to the lowest level since 1983.

The UN said that France received the most asylum seekers in 2005, some 50,000 people, followed by the USA (48,800) and then the UK, Germany and Austria.

ASYLUM APPLICATIONS 2000-04
2000: 605,440
2001: 655,130
2003: 508,070
2004: 396,380
Change 03-04: -26%
Source: UNHCR

Counting asylum seekers as a proportion of population, a measure used to estimate a nation's capacity to absorb newcomers, the UK was the 18th most popular destination out of 50 industrialised nations with 0.5 asylum applications per 1,000 people, compared with 0.8 in France and 0.2 in the USA.

Across the European Union's 25 nations, the number of asylum seekers was at its lowest since 1988.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "Industrialised countries should seriously ask themselves whether by imposing ever tighter restrictions on asylum seekers they are not closing their doors to men, women and children fleeing persecution.

"With the numbers of asylum seekers at a record low, industrialised countries are now in a position to devote more attention to improving the quality of their asylum systems, from the point of view of protecting refugees, rather than cutting numbers."

The provisional figures show that the single largest group of people claiming asylum in the UK in 2005 were Iranian (3,990) followed by Somalis (3,295) and people from Pakistan (3,030).

In France, the top three groups were from Turkey, Algeria and China while in the USA it was China, Haiti and Colombia.


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