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Signs of progress for refugees in Japan

11 April 20180 comments

Japanese companies struggling to find workers are now actively hiring refugees.

Dairyu, a Tokyo company that makes items out of plastic foam, has been recruiting at refugee job fairs.

“We want to hire refugees because there are not enough workers in Japan,” said Dairyu CEO Kenichi Osaka, whose 200 employees include around 20 foreign nationals.

“And Japanese are so strict with rules … we are looking for ideas that are unexpected and not predictable,” he said.

Given its rapidly aging society, Japan has an unemployment rate of just 2.4 percent, the lowest in 25 years.

But as more and more employers, driven partly by labor shortages, are now actively hiring refugees.

Japan accepts only a handful of refugees each year and each applicant faces significant hurdles to employment, including language and cultural barriers as well as discrimination.

Mr Osaka said his foreign and Japanese workers are paid the same wage, but local activists say asylum-seekers regularly experience wage discrimination in Japan.

Last year only 20 people were granted refugee status in Japan despite applications from almost 20,000 people.

The government claims most of the applicants are actually economic migrants, but activists and the UNHCR say Japan imposes onerous evidence requirements on asylum-seekers that can be impossible to meet, even for those in real danger.

The process is also torturously slow, with applicants waiting an average of three years for a decision.

Recently, two Syrian asylum seekers lost a bid to overturn a government decision to deny them refugee status in the first such lawsuit in Japan since the beginning of the Syria-Iraq conflict in 2011.

The Tokyo District Court upheld a government ruling made five years ago, that the pair’s bid for asylum was not admissible under international refugee law.

“The world understands the Syrian situation – it’s getting worse. But the Japanese court hasn’t understood that at all,” one of the applicants, Joude Youssef, told a media conference.

Speaking in Arabic through a Japanese interpreter, Youssef said he planned a further appeal to the court’s decision.

Lawyers said Youssef had the right to stay in Japan, under a humanitarian status that allows residency, but not full refugee rights.

Youssef, a Kurd from the north of Syria, had applied for asylum in Japan in 2012, after saying he was persecuted for organising pro-democracy demonstrations.

The Japanese government rejected the claim a year later, saying he lacked proof of his involvement in protests in Syria.

Although a major donor to international aid organisations, Japan has remained reluctant to take in refugees.

More than 5.4 million people have fled from Syria since 2011, according to the UN refugee agency, with most seeking safety in other Middle Eastern countries and Europe.

Some 81 Syrians have sought asylum in Japan during that period, with only 12 awarded refugee status, the Justice Ministry said.

Another 56 have been allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons.





Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist