Asylum today: tougher policies, tumbling numbers, intolerance in between.

Author:Maitre, Charlotte
Position:Right of asylum and immigration policies' effect

Industrialized countries in recent years have complained about being swamped by asylum-seekers and have adopted increasingly stricter policies designed to stem the tide of refugees and ensure border protection. Since 2002, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been tracking a downward trend in asylum applications lodged in industrialized countries. Its latest report, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries, 2006, shows a steady decline in 50 industrialized countries (44 European and 6 non-European). The 2006 level was the lowest in many years and, in some cases, even for decades. Germany and Denmark, for instance, recorded the lowest level since 1983, New Zealand since 1988 and the United Kingdom since 1989. In France, the number of asylum applications submitted in 2006 was the lowest since 1998. The 25 countries of the European Union received 53 per cent fewer requests in 2006 compared to 2002. while Europe as a whole registered a 54-per cent decline. While some experts agree that stricter asylum policies are behind the declining trend, others prefer to point out the growing feelings of intolerance and xenophobia fueling these policies.


Addressing the impact of stricter policies, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said UNHCR fully recognized that States were entitled to the responsible management of their borders. "But States", he added, "should also recognize that guarding borders must not prevent physical access to asylum procedures or fair refugee status determination for those entitled to it by international law." For his part. Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of the refugee and migrants' rights team at Amnesty International Secretariat, acknowledged that complex policies adopted by States not only had a "negative effect" on access to asylum, but also led to declining numbers of asylum-seekers. "These [policies] include the increasing attempts of certain States to offload their obligations on to other States through interception, extraterritorial processing and other means", he said. "States also use deterrents to stem the flow of asylum-seekers, such as the detention of failed asylum-seekers and pushing them into destitution through restricting access to assistance and employment."

Bill Frelick, Refugee Policy Director at Human Rights Watch, noted however that non-entree measures often made no distinction between people in need of international...

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