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FILE PHOTO: A Swiss flag is pictured during the sunrise on the Commercial and Financial District in Geneva, Switzerland, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse


ZURICH (Reuters) - Asylum requests in Switzerland fell to their lowest level in eight years in 2017, down by a third from the previous year, as arrivals from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq tapered off, state migration authorities said on Monday.

In total, 18,088 asylum requests were registered last year, down 9,119 from 2016 and less than half the 39,523 requests of 2015, Switzerland said.

Not since 2010, when 15,567 applied for asylum in Switzerland, have numbers been below 20,000.

Neighbouring Germany, where more than a million migrants arrived since 2015, also saw a slowdown in 2017 of about a third to 186,000, though some government officials contend the figure remains too high.

In addition to a slowdown of asylum bids from the conflict-torn Middle East, Swiss officials said the flow of applications from Africans seeking to win refugee status in Europe also lost momentum.

"On the one hand, migration of persons from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq that characterised asylum applications in 2016 was a phenomenon that largely disappeared in 2017," the State Secretariat for Migration said in a statement.

"Secondly, the decline in migration across the central Mediterranean Sea from mid-July 2017 has led to a sharp decline in asylum applications from sub-Saharan African countries," it added.

People from Eritrea topped the Swiss list of asylum seekers, making up nearly a fifth of requests, followed by Syrians, Afghans and people from Turkey who sought asylum amid a widening crackdown following that country's failed 2016 coup.

Even as the flow of Middle Eastern and African asylum seekers slips, some European countries have seen a rise.

In France, for instance, official requests rose 17 percent to exceed 100,000, the highest "in at least four decades", as an influx of Albanians seeking economic opportunity outside of their home country helped drive the rise, even though they had little chance of successfully winning asylum.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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