- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

GENEVA — France supplanted the United States as the top destination for people seeking asylum in industrialized nations last year, while the flow of refugees dropped to levels unseen since the late 1980s, a United Nations report said yesterday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees attributed the decline in asylum applications filed in North America and Europe to a drying up of the flow of refugees out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.

But France bucked the trend, rising 3 percent to 61,600 applications from the previous year’s 59,770.

“The general trend is down everywhere,” said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville. “France is the odd one out in the bigger countries. From 2000 onward, it’s been creeping up.”

The United States, which received the most applications in 2003 with 73,780 refugees, came in second last year with 52,360.

Refugees to the United States tend to come from different countries than Europe’s. Last year, fewer refugees came to the United States from its major sources, including China, Haiti, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Indonesia.

Britain dropped from second to third, with 40,200 refugees. Germany, the top destination for asylum seekers in 13 of the past 20 years, was fourth at 35,600. Canada was fifth with 25,500.

Overall, the number of refugees fleeing to Europe and North America fell in 2004 for the third year in a row, to 368,200 — the lowest since the 346,910 refugees of 1988. The peak year was 1992, when 857,610 persons filed asylum applications.

People from the Russian Federation — most of them Chechens — made up the largest nationality seeking asylum, with 30,100 applicants. They were followed by 22,300 persons from Serbia and Montenegro, many of them from Kosovo. Chinese were third, at 19,700.

Numbers dropped from three areas that underwent regime changes in recent years.

“The three big groups at the turn of the century — the Kosovars, followed by the Afghans and the Iraqis — have all three fallen away very considerably,” Mr. Colville said. “No big group has really come up to replace them.”

All 10 leading asylum-seeking nationalities recorded a significant drop, he said.

“Perhaps most strikingly of all, the number of Afghans — the top group in 2001 with more than 50,000 asylum seekers — has fallen by 83 percent in the past three years. They now stand in 13th place with 8,800,” Mr. Colville said.

He said one factor in the drop of applications could be that some refugees are staying underground because of “very restrictive legislation” and “rather hostile attitudes” toward asylum seekers in parts of Europe.

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