22nd Oct 2018

EU sees drop in asylum seekers

  • The 10 acceding countries saw an increase of 16 percent in asylum seekers last year (Photo: European Commission)

The number of people seeking asylum in the EU has dropped by 22 percent in 2003 from the previous year, but considerable increases have occurred in the new EU states.

A report published on Tuesday by the UN refugee agency UNHCR says that the 288,000 seeking asylum in 2003 is the lowest level since 1997 and is well under half the total of asylum seekers in 1992 during the war in the Balkans.

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The figures also show a plunge in the annual number of asylum seekers arriving in 36 industrialised countries, where it fell by 20 percent.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers welcomed this news.

"Most of the major groups of asylum-seekers - especially the Afghans, Iraqis and people from Serbia and Montenegro - have decreased in number, which reflects the significant changes in their home countries and regions".

But he also struck a warning note. "But we cannot relax yet. The improvements remain fragile in many countries, and there needs to be continued investment of aid and resources in the regions of origin to ensure that the trend is not reversed".

The UNHCR report shows that the top receiving country in 2003 was the UK, with 61,050. But this was a 41 percent decrease from the previous year.

The UK is followed closely by the US, with 60,700, with France receiving around 51,400 asylum seekers, and Germany with 50,450.

Germany, however, also saw a drop of 29 percent in the number of asylum seekers; the lowest total in 19 years.

A drop of 28 percent was also seen in the Netherlands, which approved last week a controversial bill to expel 26,000 asylum seekers.

The UNHCR hopes this drop in figures will encourage EU countries to focus on the need to protect refugees.

Increase in acceding countries

However, while most of the biggest receiving countries like the UK and Germany saw a considerable drop in the number of asylum seekers, increases were seen in those acceding the EU next May.

Overall these 10 countries saw an increase of 16 percent, from 32,100 in 2002 to 37,300 in 2003.

In Cyprus the numbers rose by 364 percent - from 950 in 2002 to 4,410 in 2003.

In Malta there was an increase of 63 percent; Slovenia was up by 57 percent, and the Czech Republic and Poland both rose by 34 percent to 11,390 and 6,920 respectively.

"This trend shows the importance of continuing to help the new EU member states build up their capacities", said Mr Lubbers. "It also underlines the need to find common solutions in the form of burden-sharing at the European level".

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