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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Rapid rise in applications for refugee status

  • October 3, 2017
  • , Mainichi , p. 28
  • JMH Translation

According to preliminary statistics, 8,561 applications for recognition of refugee status were received during the six-month period from January to the end of June this year (compared to 5,011 for the same period last year), the Mainichi Shimbun learned on Oct. 1 from a Ministry of Justice report. In 2016, the total number of applicants exceeded 10,000 for the first time since 1982, when the ministry began keeping statistics. This year, however, applications are coming in at a pace 1.7 times faster.


Japan’s system for recognizing refugee status was revised in March 2010. Foreigners with proper residence status who apply for refugee status are granted the status of “Designated Activities” six months after application submission. Holders of such status are permitted to work in Japan. The revision is a humanitarian measure aimed at preventing applicants from falling into dire poverty in the event of a prolonged screening process by the government.


According to the ministry, the number of applicants for refugee status surged after the revision came into force, as many apparently aimed to obtain the status of “Designated Activities” to be able to work in Japan. Some 1,202 applications were received in 2010, and the number set record highs every year from 2011, culminating in the 10,901 applications received in 2016.


Most applicants were from Asian countries, and a notable increase was observed in applicants from Indonesia and the Philippines, where the conditions for visa issuance have been eased.


Three people were granted refugee status during the six-month period from January to the end of June this year. An additional 27 individuals were authorized to stay in the country for humanitarian reasons although they were not recognized as refugees. “The surge in the number of applications for recognition of refugee status apparently aimed at working in Japan may delay protective measures for people who are in genuine need of help,” said a ministry official.


From September 2015, the ministry has expedited the processing of applications that give improper reasons for application, such as “fleeing debt collectors in home country,” or “desire to work in Japan.” The ministry rejects such applications as well as reapplications if the reasons for application are unchanged from the previous attempt. In this way, the ministry does not allow repeat applicants to work or stay in the country if their purposes are simply to work or live in Japan. However, the number of applications continues to exceed the ministry’s processing capability, so the ministry is now looking into reviewing the status of “Designated Activities,” which is the cause of the surge in applications.

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