United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Japan, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bec.html [accessed 26 July 2016]
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At the end of 1997, some 300 refugees and asylum seekers were in Japan. Japan receives the fewest refugees of all industrialized countries, according to UNHCR. Japan hosted about 50 persons recognized under UNHCR's mandate or otherwise considered of concern to UNHCR. These included 18 Vietnamese whom Japan initially determined not to be refugees, but whom UNHCR later recognized under its mandate; they awaited third-country resettlement at year's end. Seven screened-out (nonrefugee) Vietnamese repatriated from Japan in 1997, all of them voluntarily. At the beginning of 1997, 198 asylum applications were pending with the Japanese government. During the year, 242 persons applied for asylum in Japan. Japanese authorities rejected 80 cases and granted 1 case during the year. Another 27 persons withdrew their cases, leaving 332 cases pending at year's end. According to Japan's Justice Ministry, it takes about a year to process an application for refugee status. Between 1982 and March 1997, 1,328 persons applied for refugee status in Japan, but only 209 applications were approved. Japan reported that more than 10,200 Indochinese refugees were in the country. As they already have permanent residence or are eligible to apply for it, USCR no longer considered them in need of protection. Japan continued to be a major contributor to UNHCR in 1997, even in the midst of financial woes. For the first time, Japan also gave humanitarian assistance to Burmese refugees on the Thai border through a consortium of NGOs. In November, Japan said it would sharply reduce its 1998 contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees; Japan had previously been the third largest donor to UNRWA. In response to what a Japanese newspaper characterized as "the soaring number of illegal aliens," amendments to Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law went into effect in May. The new provisions were aimed at curbing the organized smuggling of foreigners into Japan, particularly Chinese. Human rights and refugee organizations in Japan sharply criticized the new law, saying it would result in the involuntary repatriation of refugees. The legislation permits detaining and deporting foreigners arriving at ports of entry, without screening them for refugee status. The legislation also imposes stiff penalties on anyone who facilitates the illegal entry of foreigners. At the end of the year, UNHCR was awaiting clarification of the new law. In September, a Turkish Kurd went on a hunger strike at a refugee center in Tokyo to protest being detained after he applied for asylum. The man claimed Japanese immigration officials detained him without considering his asylum application. The Japanese branch of Amnesty International requested the man's release and criticized Japan for taking asylum seekers into custody. In general, Japan does not detain asylum applicants because of illegal status unless the applicant's case is considered manifestly unfounded. Other Developments In October, a Burmese pro-democracy activist filed a lawsuit with a Tokyo court seeking to overturn Japan's denial of his refugee status. According to the Justice Ministry, his request for refugee status was denied because he did not file an application within 60 days of his arrival in Japan. The filing requirement and other aspects of Japan's asylum system have long been criticized by Amnesty International as being overly stringent. Earlier in the year, a Chinese pro-democracy activist filed suit to rescind his denial of refugee status. Although UNHCR recognized the man as a refugee, Japan found his application "groundless" and issued a deportation order. UNHCR eventually persuaded Denmark to resettle him, and Japanese authorities permitted him to stay briefly in Japan provided that he accept Denmark's offer.