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Japan raising its refugee intake

18 April 20240 comments

Japan granted refugee status to a record 303 people last year amid a tripling of applicants from the previous year.

The numbers for 2023 follow a recovery in inbound travel, Japan’s immigration agency has reported.

The total increased by 101 from 2022, representing a significant rise, but is still far behind Western countries, many of which accept more than 10,000 refugees a year.

The largest group was 237 Afghans, many of whom were employees of the Japan International Cooperation Agency who left Afghanistan as the Taliban seized power in 2022.

Other prominent national groups among people refugee status included 27 from Myanmar at 27, who fled internal conflict following the country’s military coup, and six Ethiopians, the immigration agency said.

The number of refugee applications in Japan rose to 13,823 people, the second-highest figure on record after 19,629 people sought asylum in 2017.

The highest number of applicants came from Sri Lanka at 3,778, followed by Turkey and Pakistan.

“As border controls imposed due to COVID-19 have ended, the number of applicants for refugee status is increasing with the recovery of inbound travel to Japan,” the agency said.

Meanwhile, 1,110 people have applied for so-called “complementary protection,” a program that allows those fleeing conflict to stay in Japan similarly to those granted refugee status by in principle giving them long-term resident visas.

It was introduced under the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, which passed the Diet in 2023.

Of 647 people who have been successful in their applications, 644 are from Ukraine, while the other three are from Sudan following the outbreak of conflict in the Northeast African country last April.

Although not recognised as refugees, 1,005 people were also allowed to stay in Japan in 2023 on humanitarian grounds after the agency took the circumstances in their home countries, such as Myanmar, into consideration.

Japan has long been the target of criticism for its strict immigration rules and for taking in far fewer refugees than countries in Europe and North America.

“We will strive to provide prompt and stable protection while also making use of the complementary protection program,” Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi said at a press conference following the release of the figures.