In the last 20 years, developed countries have struggled with what seemed to be an ever rising tide of asylum seekers, a trend that has now gone into reverse. This paper examines what happened and why. How have oppression, violence and economic conditions in origin countries shaped worldwide trends in asylum applications? And has the toughening of policy towards asylum seekers since 2001 reduced the numbers? What policies have been effective and which host countries have been most affected? This paper surveys the trends in asylum seeking since the 1980s and the literature that it has generated, and provides new regression estimates of the determinants of asylum applications up to the present. The key findings are first, that violence and terror can account for much of the variation across source countries and over time but it cannot fully explain the original surge in asylum applications during the 1980s. And second, while tougher policies did have a deterrent effect, they account for only about a third of the decline in applications since 2001.