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Germany: Fewer People Granted Asylum

Munich, 12 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's determination to grant political asylum only to those facing a genuine danger of persecution has led to a dramatic drop in the number of acceptances.

Figures released in Bonn show that two years ago Germany granted asylum to 116,000 applicants. Last year to 104,000. This figure was the lowest for many years. Normally, Germany accepts more refugees than any other European country.

The drop in German numbers contrasts with the overall European situation. Figures released by the U.N. High Commissioner for refugees show that last year the countries of the European Union took in 251,000 refugees -- a considerable increase over the 232,000 accepted the previous year.

Apart from Germany, most of them went to Britain, Holland, France and Austria. Some big European countries accepted few asylum seekers, including Spain, Greece and Italy.

The Bonn spokesman said the fall in Germany was due to the stricter controls on what constituted political persecution. The authorities are now under orders to examine each individual case more thoroughly to ensure that those claiming asylum really deserve it.

He said increased patrols on Germany's borders with Poland and the Czech Republic had also prevented hundreds of would-be asylum seekers reaching Germany.

Most of those who sought asylum in Germany and other European Union countries last year came from Yugoslavia. Many of the others came from Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The German spokesman said that despite the turmoil in Albania last year only a few hundred of those who left the country had sought political asylum.

The spokesman said the tighter controls reflected growing criticism in Germany that many of those seeking asylum were really so-called "economic refugees," seeking a better life at the expense of the German taxpayer. In this election year, many political leaders have called for a far stricter examination of those seeking asylum.

The German border authorities have also been critical of the sincerity of some of those granted asylum. For example, border guards have reported a number of cases of Iranians granted asylum who make short visits home apparently without fear of arrest.

Earlier this week the Swiss parliament also approved a tightening of the regulations regarding asylum seekers. Under the new law, asylum can now be denied to those who destroy their passports and other papers which could help identify them and their homeland. The new Swiss law also allows asylum to be denied to those who have lived illegally in the country for a longer period before seeking asylum.

Border authorities in all parts of Europe have frequently complained that many asylum seekers burn their identity papers or destroy them in other ways. Then the refuse any information about their background. This makes it difficult for the authorities to return them to their homeland, as most national laws require.