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Refugee policies in Japan

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

Japan is a signatory nation of the UN Refugee Convention of 1950. However, it has one of the harshest asylum laws in the world. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, they accepted 11,319 people between 1978 and 2005. This low number and strict policies have been criticised by international humanitarian agencies, especially in times of crisis for refugees.⁣

Japan signed the Refugee Convention in the 1980s, during the peak period of the Indo-Chinese refugee movement. Even prior to the signing of the Convention, it had taken in the ‘boat people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Yet, less than 1% of refugees are accepted yearly due to the strict screening process. Moreover, the country prefers to maintain ethnic homogeneity; hence, labour migration is limited. However, in recent years, Japan has attempted to open its door to the working population and refugees.⁣

The Abe administration had attempted to increase the number of acceptances. PM Shinzo Abe made a plan to take in Syrian students in 2016. In 2020, the government decided to revise its asylum laws to prevent long-time detention of refugees. The amendment also allows people who could not return due to conflicts to continue their stay in Japan. However, the punishments and fines for ignoring deportation orders remain harsh. Multiple cases have been reported where refugees fell sick and died in detention centres after being arrested.⁣

However, Japan took in 1300 people during the Ukraine war and assimilated them into society. This was a rare incident, as even during the crises of Syrian and Afghan refugees, the Japanese intake of refugees remained less than 100 people. While geopolitics played a significant role in this decision, there is also a rising concern amongst the Japanese public for various refugee situations. The declining population rate might also influence authorities to hire more skilled foreigners to retain the economic growth rate.

Despite the recent changes, Japan remains one of the least refugee-friendly nations among the developed countries. As a result, Japanese authorities must step up more to fulfill the criteria laid out by the Refugee Convention and assist more refugees.⁣

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