Home > News and Views > UK Press Releases > UNHCR London Press Releases > Zimbabweans nearly one in four amongst UK asylum seekers  

Zimbabweans nearly one in four amongst UK asylum seekers

Main nationalities of asylum seekers, 2009. Copyright UNHCR

LONDON, (UNHCR) - Asylum applications in the United Kingdom over 2009 declined by five percent in comparison with the previous year, with 29,800 people seeking protection as refugees, the third lowest figure in 15 years according to a new UN refugee agency report.

The number of asylum claims by Zimbabweans seeking protection in the UK rose by more than 3,100 over the previous year, to the highest level ever at 7,420. This dramatic rise was partly offset by the lower number of Eritrean and Iraqi asylum seekers seeking refugee status in Britain over 2009, which fell by more than 1,000 each.

Overall, the latest UNHCR figures covering 44 industrialised countries in Europe, Asia and North America ranked the UK fourth worldwide.

When ranked by asylum claimants per 1,000 inhabitants, the UK drops to 16th amongst European states, with 0.5 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants, well behind Malta, Cyprus, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland which comprise the top five recipients of asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants.

"People are on the move claiming persecution due to human rights abuses and conflict in their home countries," said UNHCR Representative to the UK Roland Schilling. "Whereas the majority of those who are uprooted remain in their regions, the increasing inability to find adequate protection as refugees forces many to seek safety far from home."

The United States was the largest single recipient of new asylum claims last year with some 49,000 individuals seeking protection as refugees, followed by France with 42,000 applications, Canada with 33,000 and Germany in fifth position just behind the UK with 27,600.

Last year was the second year in a row that most asylum seekers arriving in the UK originated from Zimbabwe, with more than twice the number of asylum claims than the second ranked country of origin, Afghanistan (3,535). The Islamic Republic of Iran (2,125), Pakistan (2,035) and Sri Lanka (1,430) rounded out the top five countries of origin for asylum seekers applying for protection in the UK.

The bottom half of the top ten countries of origin for asylum seekers arriving in the UK included China (1,415), holding at roughly the same level as the previous year. Applications by Eritreans stood at 1,405 in comparison to 2,345 the year before, Somalia fell by nearly half to 1,080. The number of Iraqis seeking international protection as refugees in the UK dropped to 990 persons last year from 2,030 in 2008, but Nigeria still remains the tenth ranked country of origin for asylum claims in the UK with 820 persons seeking protection over 2009.

"Despite efforts amongst European Union member states to harmonise asylum systems, the fact that some states recognized only as few as one percent of all asylum claims forces many refugees to travel across multiple borders so they may get a fair hearing," UNHCR’s Schilling declared.

"UNHCR would like to see stronger UK support for the refugee agency’s efforts in developing asylum system in other countries. We are facing the dilemma that countries like the UK expect that persons in need of protection remain in transit countries whereas many of these countries fail to provide sufficient protection and necessary support," Schilling said.

The availability of social and ethnic networks amongst communities here are important factors in influencing the decision to apply for asylum, as well as the quality of the refugee status determination apparatus and the belief that some countries are more likely to grant refugee status than others, the UNHCR reports states.

The report notes that a variety of factors influence trends in the number of people requesting international protection as refugees in a given country, including the political or security situation in a country of origin. Individuals must demonstrate that they have been persecuted or fear persecution to be recognized a refugees or they may receive humanitarian status due to an on-going conflict and widespread chaos in their homeland.