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4 June 2004 -- The UN's refugee agency said today that people fleeing the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya formed the largest single group seeking asylum in developed countries during the first three months of 2004.
Ron Redmond, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said some 7,500 Russian citizens -- the great majority of them Chechens -- sought asylum in January, February, and March, a quarter fewer than in the last three months of 2003.
Redmond said the total number of asylum seekers in 29 industrialized countries dropped by 16 percent compared to the last quarter of 2003.
That drop was due in part to a move in the European Union to toughen rules across the 25-nation bloc.
But Redmond said the drop was also caused by the return of exiles to Afghanistan and Iraq.