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Europe

Asylum Seekers Flock to New EU States

Political asylum seekers are flocking in record numbers to the European Union's new member nations, even as requests in Europe's traditional countries of refuge are declining, the UN said Tuesday.

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The new EU states are the first points of entry for many refugees


In the second quarter of 2004, the number of asylum petitions jumped 34 percent in Poland, 52 percent in Slovakia and 90 percent in Cyprus, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' office said in a report. All countries that joined the EU on May 1.


Across six out of the 10 new EU nations that provided statistics, the number of asylum requests increased an average of 26 percent in the second quarter of 2004 as compared to the January-March period of this year.

This pattern is due in part to the fact that applying for asylum in ex-Soviet bloc countries has simply become much easier, said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville.

"They had no asylum laws, no asylum system at all, before the fall of the Soviet Union," he told reporters. "That gradually got better," he added, saying that reaching a certain procedural standard for handling asylum requests "was one of the requirements for entry in the European Union."

Another factor contributing to this new influx is that many of the affected countries are the first point of entry along major axes of immigration from the Far East, Afghanistan and Chechnya, Colville said.

Law could see news states overwhelmed

The UNHCR expressed concern that European legislation making it possible to send back asylum seekers to the first EU country in which they sought refuge could overwhelm the fledgling asylum offices in these new EU nations.

"They are perhaps still less well placed to cope with a major influx than the old EU countries," Colville noted.

Overall, asylum requests in Europe have dropped off in recent years, especially in the core EU countries with long-established traditions of political asylum. In the 30 industrialized nations covered by the UNHCR study the number of petitioners in the second quarter of 2004 was 86,600, the lowest figure in 17 years and eight percent less than the preceding quarter.


Already in 2003, asylum requests dropped 20 percent as compared to the year before, due mainly to fewer refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.


Traditional refuges record drop in petitions

Though France registered the highest number of requests in Europe for the third straight quarter, the number dropped 11 percent in the second quarter this year as compared to the same period in 2003. In Germany the decrease was 16 percent and in Britain 13 percent.

So far in 2004, Germany's Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees has reviewed 30,566 petitions for refugee status with the main countries of origin being Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Russian Federation, followed by Iran and Azerbaijan.

Russians -- presumably mainly from Chechnya -- remain the single largest group among countries of origin, though the number of requests dropped four percent over the corresponding period. There were also decreases from other countries, notably 7 percent from Serbia, 11 percent from China, 22 percent from Turkey and 25 percent from India.



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