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UNHCR Briefing Notes: Chechnya, Timor, November Europe asylum statistics

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below left
Paul Stromberg

1. Chechnya

Police have been instructed by Russian authorities to provide security coverage to UN agencies working in North Caucasus, which should enable international staff to conduct frequent missions to the border area. The first convoy under the new arrangement will travel to Ingushetia either Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

A senior UNHCR Emergency Officer is already in Stavropol to co-ordinate the operation. A UNHCR water and sanitation engineer will go to Ingushetia next week, and UNHCR has finalized an arrangement with the Danish Refugee Council to deliver and distribute relief assistance in Ingushetia.

A 17th aid convoy from Stavropol, comprising 29 trucks carrying 300 MT of food, 17,940 winter coats, 4,523 blankets and 1,720 mattresses, arrived in Nazran this morning.

The total number of IDPs registered by the Ingush Migration Service is now 248,399. Women and children represent 78% of the number.

According to Vladimir Kalamanov, Head of the Federal Migration Service, more than 50,000 IDPs had returned to Chechnya as of 15 December. Many went back to their areas of origin. He also said that only around 2,000 persons had left Grozny through the humanitarian corridors since they were opened. Yesterday, 500 persons left Grozny and a third safe passage was opened to Pervomayskoye village, in northern Chechnya. Kalamanov estimates that there are still some 30,000 civilians in Grozny. Meanwhile, heavy attacks on the Chechen capital by federal troops continue.

As of 20 December, UNHCR has received US$7.9 million in response to the inter-agency appeal.

2. Timor

Repatriation convoys to East Timor will be run through Thursday, 23 December, when the return operation will be put on hold for four days over the Christmas weekend. Very few refugees are expected to come forward for repatriation during the holiday, when traditional masses will be celebrated across the island. UNHCR staff in West Timor will continue other work and maintain a presence in the camps. A similar interruption is planned for the weekend of the New Year, from 31 December to 2 January.

Returns to East Timor yesterday passed the 119,000 mark, and UNHCR staff say that despite three minor incidents in or around the West Timor camps since last Friday, security in the refugee sites is improving. Staff are now able to move around many of the more notorious militia-controlled camps without escorts, distributing leaflets on return and opening information centers. One of the incidents occured Sunday when UNHCR staff arrived in Tuapukan camp (population 13,000) to show a mass information video and were blocked, but not harmed, by an unarmed group who also chased away the audience which had gathered. Refugees at Tuapukan had asked to see videos of East Timor after we conducted several information sessions at the site.

UNHCR is continuing negotiations with Indonesian authorities to reinforce the security in camps, emphasizing the need for a better environment, not simply bodyguards for aid workers. Staff are also working on provisions for a significant number of Timorese who are not expected to go back until March, after the rainy season, or for refugees who so far are undecided about repatriation.

Since 8 October, 119,582 people have returned to East Timor, most of these with the assistance of UNHCR and IOM.

3. November Europe asylum statistics

In November 1999, some 26,810 asylum applications were submitted in 19 European countries, an increase of 4% compared to October (25,790). [Note that the November statistics for the UK are not yet available and thus not included in this analysis.]

The total number of asylum applications in the main asylum countries (Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium) remained relatively stable in November as compared to October 1999. However, in Denmark asylum applications more than doubled in November, mainly due to a strong rise in the number of Afghan, Iraqi and Slovak asylum-seekers.

Applications from citizens of FR Yugoslavia, including Kosovars, continue to fall. In November, 3,660 Yugoslav citizens submitted an asylum application in the 13 European countries for which information was available, 18% fewer than in October. Nevertheless, FR Yugoslavia remains the largest country of origin of asylum-seekers in Europe, accounting for almost 16% of all applications lodged during November.

Due to a rise of 30% in applications submitted during November, Afghanistan became the second largest country of origin of asylum-seekers in Europe. In November 1999, Afghans constituted 9% of all those who applied for asylum in Europe.

The number of Iraqi citizens applying for asylum stabilized in November (constituting around 8% of all asylum-seekers), as a result of which Iraq fell from second to third position in the list of main countries of origin of asylum-seekers in Europe.

The number of asylum-seekers from the Russian Federation increased by 27% in November.

Note: All statistics are provisional and subject to change. German figures exclude "re-opened" applications.
Source: Governments, compiled and analyzed by UNHCR's Statistical Unit.This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.