The number of people applying for asylum in Britain in 2016 was just over 38,500, falling for the first time in six years, official data showed on Thursday.
But refugee advocates said the drop was no cause for celebration, with ever more people fleeing their homes in an increasingly dangerous world.
Britain received a total of 38,517 asylum applications last year, down from 39,968 in 2015, in the first year-on-year drop since 2010, before the Syria crisis triggered the biggest migration crisis since World War Two.
“If the fall in the number of people seeking refuge in Britain was because the world had become a safer, more peaceful place then we’d have cause to celebrate,” said Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council.
“However this is plainly not true. The situation globally has become ever more dangerous and more and more people have been forced to flee from their homes,” she said in a statement.
The greatest number of claims came from Iran (4,792), followed by Pakistan (3,717), Iraq (3,651), Afghanistan (3,094) and Bangladesh (2,234), according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Asylum claims made by Syrians, who chalked up the ninth highest application rate, dropped to 1,588 from 2,794 in 2015.
Unaccompanied child migrants seeking asylum in Britain – about one in ten claimants – also fell slightly to 3,175, according to new Home Office (interior ministry) data.
The figures were released amid growing pressure from campaigners for the government to ensure children’s safe passage to Britain after it announced plans to end a scheme to take in lone child migrants stranded in Europe.
“Shamefully, the UK government’s response to this global refugee crisis has been to deliberately cut off refugees’ escape routes and offer safe haven to fewer and fewer people,” said Doyle. “If Britain is truly a global leader, then the government must step forward and ensure we do our bit to help.”
Britain had the sixth highest number of asylum claims in the European Union (EU) in 2016, the ONS said.
The three countries with the most applications, Germany (692,000), Italy (117,000) and France (83,000), accounted for about 75 per cent of all the EU claims, the Home Office said.
The number of asylum applications made in the EU also dropped in 2016, falling to 1,189,000 from 1,319,000 in 2015.