The immigration services agency has compiled its first guidelines for recognizing refugees, but critics say they are too strict and just a ploy to deflect opposition from legislation before the Diet that could make it easier to deport those who have overstayed their visas.
Japan has endured criticism for its abysmally low ratio of applicants recognized as refugees for years. Critics said the process was not fair or transparent.
That led to the guidelines released March 24 that include a clear definition of what constitutes persecution, which the U.N. says. The Refugee Convention must serve as the basis for recognizing an individual as a refugee.
Any person who flees to another nation for fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality and membership of a particular social group or political opinions qualifies as a refugee. The guidelines were compiled after consultations with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The guidelines define persecution as a serious infringement of life and limb, as well as infringement and repression of freedom and other human rights. The new policy states that there needs to be a real danger of being persecuted for an individual to be recognized as a refugee. The guidelines said that no judgement would be made as to whether there was a fear of persecution or not, just because the state organ responsible for the persecution was not aware of a refugee applicant.
Under the category of membership of a particular social group, the rules state that it may be possible to include sexual minorities or those who might face persecution due to gender.
The guidelines list female gender genital mutilation as an example of infringement of life and limb.
Justice Minister Ken Saito said at a March 24 news conference that there might be an increase in the number of cases that lead to a quicker recognition of refugee status. He stated that the guidelines would not expand the range of refugees.
The Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees pointed out problems with the guidelines, citing fears that only those facing a serious threat of persecution would be granted refugee status.
The network said that an indispensable step to improve the situation is to conduct the refugee recognition process in an organ independent of the Immigration Services Agency. On March 24, the agency released figures for refugee recognition in 2022 and said a record 202 applicants had been recognized.
About 70 percent were Afghans who fled to Kabul after the Taliban took over control of the government in August 2021.
Afghans who had worked at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul as well as their family members were granted refugee status by the Immigration Services Agency. This helped push the figure upward.
While 147 Afghans were recognized as refugees, the figures for nationals from other countries were paltry. There were 26 from Myanmar, nine from China, five from Eritrea and four from Cameroon.