PARIS (Reuters) - The number of people fleeing war or strife for more stable parts of the world declined significantly in 2017, although the United States registered a sharp increase in asylum applications during U.S. President Donald Trump’s first year in the White House.
In a report on broader migration trends, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the biggest exodus came for a third-year running from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
The report comes as immigration is shaping politics in Europe and the United States. The European Union is bitterly divided over migration and has struggled to reform its asylum rules which broke down in 2015, focussing instead on tightening its borders and preventing new arrivals.
Meanwhile, Trump, who has made a tough stance on immigration a pillar of his presidency and promises a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, faces outcry over his administration’s policy of separating immigrant parents and children along the frontier.
Asylum applications to OECD countries fell 25 percent in 2017 from the record-high of 1.64 million a year earlier, the report said. Applications to EU member states nearly halved.
The drop was largely due “to the large decline in applications in Germany after the very high figure recorded in 2016, which partly reflected delayed registrations from 2015,” the report said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel that year opened Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers - a decision for which she is still paying a political price at home.
Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies this week gave her two weeks to find a European solution to a migration row that has threatened to unravel her three-month old coalition government.
Germany emerged as the second largest destination of asylum applicants after the United States in the OECD last year, registering 198,000 applications, down 73 percent on 2016. Italy, which has a new anti-establishment government in power, Turkey and France followed.
While requests for refugee status fell in the EU, they jumped 26 percent to 330,000 in the United States.
Two in every five of those were filed by nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela, where hyper-inflation, widespread hunger and political strife have driven an exodus abroad.
Trump said the United States needed to wise up to immigration, blaming migrants in Europe for what he inaccurately described as a rise in crime in Germany.
“Crime in Germany is up 10% plus (officials do not want to report these crimes) since migrants were accepted. Others countries are even worse. Be smart America!,” Trump tweeted.
Reporting by Richard Lough, Editing by William Maclean