[JURIST] The number of asylum applications submitted to industrialized countries has decreased for the fourth year in a row and the number of asylum seekers arriving in Western nations has plummeted by half in the last five years [UNHCR press release], according to statistics [report, PDF] released Friday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website]. UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres [official profile] attributed the drop to stricter asylum application measures adopted by Western countries in recent years to deter refugees and warned against withholding asylum from people trying to escape persecution. Guterres also called for countries to take advantage of the low numbers of refugee applications to improve their asylum systems.
A UNHCR spokesperson cited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an influence in more restrictive asylum procedures in Western nations. Asylum seekers dropped by 16 percent in Europe, 54 percent in the US and Canada, and a staggering 75 percent in Australia and New Zealand. The largest groups of asylum seekers came from Serbia and Montenegro, Russia and Iraq. Aljazeera has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.