The number of asylum applications lodged with European Union (EU) countries fell slightly in 2001, and the number of requests received by particular countries varied enormously, according to statistics recently released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
According to the agency's newly published Statistical Yearbook for 2001, the number of asylum applications lodged in EU member states decreased by about one percent compared to the previous year. In 2000, the EU received 392,275 applications, while in 2001 the number was 388,372. For Europe as a whole, however, the number of applications rose from 461,474 in 2000 to 477,824 in 2001, an increase of four percent.
As in 2000, the major receiving country of asylum seekers in 2001 was the United Kingdom, with 92,000 applications, followed by Germany (88,287) and France (47,291). According to a UNHCR update covering January-September 2002, the UK retained its top spot based on the 80,530 asylum applications it received in that period. This figure represented an increase of about 20 percent compared to the same period in 2001. Portugal, with just 234 applications in 2001, ranked the lowest in terms of applications, together with Luxembourg (686) and Finland (1,651).
The most pronounced drops in the number of applications within the EU were reported by Belgium (42 percent), Italy (38 percent), and the Netherlands (26 percent). However, some member countries had strong increases, especially Austria (65 percent) and Sweden (44 percent).
The major receiving country of the 1990s, Germany, reported an increased number of applications for the first time since 1992, when the country tightened its asylum law. In 1992, the number of asylum applications stood at 438,191 and steadily decreased to 78,564 in 2000. The 2001 figure, 88,287, represented an increase of about 12 percent compared to the previous year.
In some Central European countries, several of them EU candidate countries, the trend of rising numbers of asylum applications continued from previous years. The 18,100 applications in 2001 in the Czech Republic represented an increase of 105 percent compared to 2000, when 8,800 claims were counted. Romania, meanwhile, saw a 78 percent rise, as did Hungary, where applications were up by 22 percent. Among the EU candidate countries, only Slovenia saw a sharp drop in applications. Whereas in 2000 there were 9,200 such cases, in 2001 the number plunged by 84 percent to stand at 1,510.
In terms of the number of asylum applications received by a country in relation to its population size, for the years 1992-2001, Switzerland ranked the highest. This non-EU country had 23.4 applications per 1,000 inhabitants in the period. EU member Sweden, where the number of applications per 1,000 inhabitants was about 16.6, took second place. Denmark followed with 13.8 applications per 1,000 inhabitants. The two most important receiving countries in that period had much lower ratios: Germany reported 6.6 applications per 1,000 inhabitants, while the UK's proportion was 3.8 per 1,000.
For the first time, Afghanistan was the most important sending country for Europe as a whole, displacing Yugoslavia and Iraq. While the year 2000 saw 32,795 applications lodged by Afghans, the figure increased to 51,705 in 2001 — a rise of 18,910 or 58 percent. Other key sending countries were Iraq (47,928) and Turkey (30,383). Strong increases in the number of asylum applications filed were also evident for citizens of Vietnam (up by 67 percent), Ukraine (64 percent), Angola (61 percent), and the Georgian Republic (59 percent). Meanwhile, the number of applications from Iranians fell by 45 percent, and from Yugoslavians, by 39 percent.
In the EU, a total of 115,825 individuals were granted refugee status in 2001. This number is about 26 percent higher than in 2000, when 92,046 refugees were admitted. On the basis of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, about 46,715 asylum seekers were accepted as refugees. An additional 19,093 received this status after review or appeal. The share of Convention refugees allowed to stay in a host country after an appeals process increased by 150 percent compared to 2000. Some 42,449 people had their stay approved for humanitarian reasons; a further 7,568 obtained this permission for humanitarian reasons after reassessment.
The European Union is currently investigating the feasibility of a union-wide resettlement plan that could involve all 15 member states and expand as more states become EU members. Deliberations on this move are taking place against a backdrop of growing concern about the considerable number of spontaneous asylum seekers arriving in Europe, and the suggestion by some politicians that a tougher line on asylum seekers might be counterbalanced by a more expansive resettlement program.