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Japan Refugee Policy Unveiled!

Japan’s Immigration Agency has released guidelines clarifying eligibility for refugee status — a first for the nation — amid a jump in applications.

The new document aims to organize criteria relating to how refugee status in Japan is determined, with the intention of increasing transparency and promoting confidence in the system, the Justice Ministry said on Friday.

 

“We have included points that should be taken into consideration in accordance with the changing circumstances surrounding refugees,” said Madoka Shimozaki, a spokesperson for the Immigration Agency.

The guidelines examine domestic court precedents, past practices and also refer to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UNHCR. It also lists terms to consider regarding sexual minorities and gender-specific issues that were not envisioned when the initial convention was drafted. Sexual minorities will be considered part of “members of particular social groups,” which covers the basis of persecution under the refugee convention.

Such members include LGBTQ individuals in countries with laws that punish homosexuality, women who are subjected to forced marriages and women who undergo forced female genital mutilation.

“We have been conducting screenings while referring to training courses and past court cases, but this time, we have systematically organized the key points (necessary for) screening in the form of this guide,” said Yasuhiro Hishida, the director of the Refugee Recognition Office.

The guidelines define refugees as those who are outside their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on factors like a person’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, political opinion and those who cannot be protected by their country of origin or who, because of such fear, do not wish to receive the protection of their country. He added that the guidelines would not expand the scope of how refugees are defined, but rather help decision-makers make more appropriate choices and help applicants determine how to organize their appeals.

Last year, 3,772 people applied for refugee status, about a 56% increase from the previous year, the Immigration Agency said on Friday. A total of 1,962 foreign nationals were admitted into Japan with 202 of them being recognized as refugees, while most, 1,760 people, were admitted on the basis of humanitarian considerations such as being unable to return to their country of origin for reasons involving war or domestic conflict.

Among these applicants, around 32%, or 1,202 people, have previously applied for refugee status. The nationalities of the applicants varied, but the most common were people from Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, Japan began accepting Ukrainian evacuees fleeing their country on March 2. In 2022, Japan accepted 2,238 refugees, with 2,013 residing in Japan under the “Designated Activities” visa status.

Some refugee support groups have pointed out problems with the guidelines.

The Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees highlighted how these guidelines do not guarantee an increase in refugees being accepted into Japan and said the scope of what counts as “persecution” remains narrow. They also point out that to qualify for having a “well-founded fear of persecution,” guidelines necessitate “realistic” forms of persecution, based on the specific circumstances of each case. International standards, however, do not necessarily require the existence of such specific circumstances.

(Source – “The Japan Times“)

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