Japan accepted 11 asylum seekers out of a record 5,000 applications in 2014, Ministry of Justice data showed, drawing criticism from advocates and lawyers that the country is not doing enough to provide protection to refugees.
The number of asylum applications rose 53 per cent from the previous year, while the refugee recognition rate was 0.2 per cent, one of the lowest among industrialised economies.
“The low recognition rate is shameful,” said immigration lawyer Shogo Watanabe.
In 2013, Japan accepted six refugees, its lowest for 15 years.
A lack of planning for the protection and resettlement of refugees, as well as dysfunction in the system that processes asylum claims, was behind the low intake, said Mieko Ishikawa, director of Forum for Refugees Japan.
“There’s no comprehensive policy on the part of the government, and there are gaps in the system’s transparency, efficiency and independence,” she said.
Germany and the United States were the largest destinations for asylum seekers in 2013, receiving 109,580 and 88,360 applications respectively, UN High Commissioner for Refugees data shows.
Tokyo’s refugee recognition rate is only a fraction of the global 2013 average of 32 per cent.
“No other developed refugee jurisdiction has such as consistently low rate,” said Brian Barbour of the Japan Association for Refugees.
The sharp increase is in part down to the attractiveness of Japan to foreign workers, some of whom claim asylum to stay in the country, say immigration officials.
Asylum applications have risen nearly four-fold since 2010, when legal changes gave re-applicants the right to work as their claims were judged.
“Most people aren’t coming for political reasons. In countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, many people think they can come to Japan to work,” said Hiroshi Kimizuka, director of refugee recognition at the Ministry of Justice.
A labour shortage has pushed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to expand a “trainee” programme for manual workers that has been criticized for poor conditions and human rights abuses. The government has also sought to attract white collar foreigners, while insisting that the measures are not an “immigration policy”.