IRELAND'S precarious economic situation appears to be discouraging asylum-seekers from seeking refuge in this country, latest statistics have show.

Quarterly figures from the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) show 790 would-be refugees have arrived so far this year. Based on those figures, the total expected this year will be in the region of 3,160, a fall of more than 600 from the 3,807 who arrived last year.

The decline has been in the order of 22%, backing up claims made by former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell that many applicants were in fact "economic migrants".

An immigration source said: "Economic factors do play a part but many of those are arriving to be reunited with family and friends already here."

The numbers of asylum- seekers coming to Ireland has been falling since 2003 when a total of 7,483 people arrived here seeking refugee status.

The chances of success in the asylum process continue to be low with just 22 out of 384 cases adjudicated on in March successful.

Figures released by ORAC show that Nigerian nationals continue to dominate in asylum applications, and make up 23.6% of all new claims.

There have been an increasing number of applications from Pakistan with 80 so far this year, many claiming to come from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where the rule-of-law is virtually non-existent and Muslim extremism is rife.

A large number of Chinese people – 49 so far this year – have also claimed asylum in Ireland, fleeing what they say is religious or ethnic persecution.

Dozens of asylum applications have also been received from Zimbabweans fleeing the regime of Robert Mugabe.