03/24/2023, 15.02
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Japan issues new guidelines on refugees, but will not welcome more

Japan’s Immigration Services Agency has released a handbook that lays out  very strict criteria for status recognition. In 2021, Japan accepted 74 applications out of more than 2,000, a record for the East Asian country. Amnesty International slams indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) –  Stung by criticism for its poor treatment of refugees and immigrants, Japan is introducing new national guidelines on refugee status recognition.

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan today released a handbook that “does not expand the scope of recognition” already in use by immigration authorities, nor is it meant to "increase the number of people granted refugee status," Justice Minister Ken Saito told a press conference.

“It is possible that there will be an increase in cases of swiftly granting refugee status," he added, but the new guidelines are mostly aimed at a better organising applications.

As for the new handbook’s effectiveness, the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees has serious doubts. “There is no guarantee that the number of refugee recognition and protection will increase," since the handbook is only to help "better understand" the refugee recognition system.

In 2021, Japan granted refugee status to only 74 people out of 2,413 applications, a record for the country, but a figure far lower than many other countries. That same year, 580 people were allowed to remain in Japan, including 498 from Myanmar, where a civil war is raging.

Applications for refugee status in 2021 dropped by 88 per cent from 2017, when nearly 20,000 applications were filed. However, in an unusual move, Japan has accepted 2,035 “evacuees” from Ukraine after it was invaded by Russia.

“Migrants have painted a grim picture of what it’s like to claim refugee status in Japan,” said Hideaki Nakagawa, director of Amnesty International Japan. “Far from being helped in their hour of need, they speak of being subjected to arbitrary, endless detention in prison-like immigration facilities.”

Although Japan is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, Japanese law allows authorities to detain irregular migrants, including asylum seekers, indefinitely, in violation of international law.

Under the Convention, a refugee is defined as someone who cannot return to their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions.

The government’s guidelines mention persecution based on sexual orientation, take into consideration contributing factors that can lead people to leave their country of origin, and stress that the risk of persecution must be "realistic”, not abstract..

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