THE number of asylum seekers coming to Ireland has now fallen to its lowest levels since 1996, new figures have shown.

In the first seven months of the year, a total of 1,184 new applications were received by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

It means the full year target is likely to be barely 2,000 would-be refugees, a figure not seen for more than a decade.

The dramatic decline in applications has done little to reduce the cost of the asylum system for the taxpayer, however.

The number of asylum seekers in "direct provision" has remained remarkably consistent with 6,000 people currently housed in B&Bs, guesthouses, and other centres.

And despite the massive decline in the numbers arriving in Ireland, many asylum seekers are still remaining within the system for years.

Figures from the Reception and Integration Agency show that a total of 2,547 applicants are in accommodation for more than three years.

The stark drop in numbers coming here has been attributed to a number of factors, including the ongoing recession.

One immigration source said: "There have been a huge number of factors involved, including the fact that the amount of work available in the black market has completely dried up."