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Asylum-seeker numbers fall to almost half levels of a decade earlier, UN reports

Asylum applications lodged in 44 industrialized countries, 2001-201028 March 2011 – The number of asylum-seekers seeking to live in the industrialized world continues to fall and is now almost half the level it was a decade ago, the United Nations refugee agency reported today as it released its annual snapshot of asylum trends.

The report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) finds that 358,800 applications for asylum were lodged last year in 44 developed countries – a drop of 5 per cent on the 2009 figures and about 42 per cent below the levels of 2001, when nearly 620,000 applications were made.

Unveiling the report, High Commissioner António Guterres said the global dynamics of asylum had changed in recent years.

“We need to study the root causes to see if the decline is because of fewer push factors in areas of origin, or tighter migration control in countries of asylum,” Mr. Guterres said.

Serbia – including Kosovo – provided the biggest number of asylum-seekers in 2010, with 28,900 claims lodged, compared to only 18,800 the previous year.

UNHCR said the sharp rise was probably due to the European Union’s December 2009 decision to grant visa-free entry to holders of Serbian passports.

The other leading countries of origin of asylum-seekers were, in order: Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Russia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Mr. Guterres noted that the developing world is still “carrying the lion’s share of responsibility for hosting refugees,” with countries such as Liberia and Tunisia playing host to asylum-seekers despite their own problems and challenges.

Within the developed world, the United States was the biggest recipient of asylum claims, with 55,500 lodged last year, due in part to an increase in applications from Chinese and Mexicans. France was second, with 47,800 claims, drawn largely from Serbian, Russian and Congolese asylum-seekers. Germany, Sweden and Canada rounded out the top five recipient nations.

UNHCR defines an asylum-seeker as an individual who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not been determined. A person is considered a refugee if he or she fulfils criteria set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The 44 recipient countries used for the report were the 27 members of the European Union, as well as Albania, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Liechtenstein, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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