The Situation of Refugees in Japan

by Marina Kouyama

Today, there are over 40 million refugees around the world. Under such conditions, here in Japan, the number of refugee is overwhelmingly low in comparison to other developed countries. In 2011, 21 of the 1,867 people who applied for asylum (only 0.1 percent) were got certified as refugees in Japanese society. With Japan having ratified the UN Convention on Refugees, why then is the acceptance rate this low?

In Japan, the protection of refugees is conducted in accordance with the Immigration-Control and Refugee-Recognition Act. Therefore, people who want to receive rights as refugee in Japan must apply and be admitted according to this law. However, Japanese system or policy has some problems with granting asylum. Following are some noticeable problematic policies;

  1. If a refugee fails to apply for asylum within 60 days after being displaced, he/her is not accepted into Japan (2 of Article 61 of the Immigration Act).
  2. There are flaws in the laws in refugees’ visa status and their conservation establishment.
  3. Japanese government does not grant a legal status of asylum seeker. Asylum seeker is treated the same as a foreigner without a visa.
  4. The refugee status determination depends on political and diplomatic judgment (by an informal committee which is composed of executives of Japanese government) rather than objective judgment by the rules of international convention on the status of refugees.

In addition to above-mentioned policies, the problems include the Japanese public’s awareness of refugee. It is said that Japanese people are relatively uncomprehending about ethnic issues, due to the small number of foreign residents. Therefore, Japanese people tend to think that refugee issue is happening somewhere far from Japan. Even after Japanese people recognize the existence of refugee in Japanese society, more than a few people disagree the acceptance, with concern that refugee makes security deterioration. This concern results from the increase in news report about foreigner’s crime. Actually, however, the foreign crime rate is falling over years, considering foreign residents have increased recently. Japanese people tend to judge foreign people based on only their image without touch with foreigners. This Japanese little awareness of foreigner is also the big reason why Japan is a so closed country for dispatched people.

The international community criticized these Japanese negative attitudes. Japan, as one of the advanced country, is demanded fair contribution to refugee issue which international society has to work together hand in hand. In response to this, Japan has launched pilot resettlement program in which the government plans to accept 90 Myanmar political refugees for three years from 2010. At present, 37 of them are reside in Japan after taking six-months of training for life in Japan. However, they are faced with some difficulty about new life, for example, they struggle with language barrier.

As stated above, there are a lot of problems with refugee issue in Japan. To solve its, the following some possible countermeasures should be taken;

  1. increase public awareness of refugee issue and improve understanding of refugee in conjunction with the government and local towns.
  2. adopt more open policy on refugee in order to promote fundamental reforms.
  3. improve system of treatment for refugee accepted in Japan, or who are in asylum application process.
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