Saturday, February 17, 2018

Japan's Closed Door Refugee Policy

Japan accepted just 20 asylum seekers last year – despite a record 19,628 applications – drawing accusations that the country is unfairly closing its door on people in genuine need.

Since 2010, Japan has granted work permits to asylum seekers with valid visas to work while their refugee claims were reviewed. Recent changes indicate Japan is getting even tougher. In an attempt to reduce the number of applicants, the government last month started limiting the right to work only to those it regards as genuine asylum seekers. Repeat applicants, and those who fail initial screenings, risk being held in immigration detention centres after their permission to stay in Japan expires. Japan’s immigration detention centres have been criticised for their harsh treatment of detainees. At least 10 people have died in the centres since 2006, including four suicides. In 2016, more than 40 detainees went on hunger strike at a facility in Osaka to protest against their living conditions and poor standards of medical care.

Eri Ishikawa, head of the Japan Association for Refugees, said the new regulation was part of a wider crackdown on refugees under the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe. “The door has been closed to people applying for asylum. That worries us because among them are genuine asylum seekers.”

“Conditions at the centres are harsh, and there is no limit on how long people can be detained,” Ishikawa said. “People are usually given provisional release after a year, but they are not allowed to work and they are not entitled to any social security benefits.”

Campaigners have contrasted his tough stance on asylum seekers with his recent visit to Lithuania, where he paid tribute to a wartime Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who is credited with saving the lives of an estimated 6,000 Jewish people in 1940 by issuing them with Japanese visas.

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