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Thursday, 25 March 2010

No increase in asylum claims to developed nations

The total number of asylum applications to industrialized countries in 2009 saw virtually no change from 2008. The UN says this is proof that wealthier countries as a whole are not being swamped.

The issue of asylum seekers remains an attention-getting topic for many European citizens, and it remains high on the agenda of some European political parties who see it as a problem that must be solved. But annual figures from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) show that the total number of asylum applicants to industrialized countries for 2009 – 377,000 – is virtually the same number as for 2008.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, told Deutsche Welle that the figures were proof that wealthier countries were not being swamped by asylum claims.

"Our statistics show that this is not the case," said Fleming. "The notion that there is a flood of asylum seekers into richer countries is a myth."

Change in origins and destinations
Although the number has remained relatively stable, there is a change in both where the applicants are coming from and where they are trying to go.
Afghanistan is now at the top of the list of source countries for asylum seekers, with over 26,000 applicants to industrialized countries in 2009 – 45 percent more than 2008. Iraq comes in second, with 24,000 applicants.

The UNHCR says the statistics reflect continued violence and instability in those countries.

United States remains the number one destination country for people seeking asylum. But proportionally, some countries saw an increase in the number of asylum seekers making applications there. Germany saw a 25 percent increase in the number of asylum applications received in 2009 compared to the year before. Nordic countries received 13 percent more applications than in 2008.

But the UK's numbers dropped five percent, and Greece, which traditionally has a very low acceptance rate for refugees, saw a drop of 20 percent.

Developing countries have largest burden

Fleming says it is important to bear in mind that poorer countries continue to bear the brunt of housing refugees and asylum seekers.

"When you look at the statistics, there are 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and one million in Iran," said Fleming. "Compare that number to the 26,800 requesting refugee status in industrialized countries."

The UNHCR says it hopes the latest figures will take the heat out of Europe's extremely politicized asylum debate, and encourage industrialized countries to show greater generosity to those in need.

DE World