Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2017, 08:56 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Japan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Japan , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, close to 3,800 refugees and asylum seekers were in Japan. This included an estimated 3,400 Indochinese refugees admitted between 1979 and 1999 who remained in Japan with temporary status, 135 refugees admitted from overseas during 2000 (Vietnamese and Cambodians), 22 persons granted asylum during the year, individuals in 202 pending asylum cases, and 18 refugees recognized under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – including some whom the Japanese government previously denied asylum but did not provide any other form of permission to stay.

During the year, Japan permitted 31 rejected asylum seekers to remain in the country with special resident status based on humanitarian concerns.

UNHCR does not formally confer mandate status on asylum applicants whose claims are still pending with the Japanese government. UNHCR may confer mandate status on persons denied asylum by Japan who have strong grounds for recognition.

Japan has an ongoing family reunification program for close relatives of Indochinese refugees resettled in previous years. During 2000, Japan admitted 135 refugees from overseas – 9 (Vietnamese and Cambodians) from countries of asylum and 126 from their countries of origin (mostly from Vietnam). Although a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and a major donor to UNHCR, Japan continued to resettle the fewest refugees of all industrialized countries except South Korea.

Of the more than 10,500 Indochinese refugees admitted to Japan between 1979 and 1999, roughly 3,400 remained in Japan under various temporary residence permits, mostly valid from one to three years. Although such permits are normally renewed, Japan does not grant permanent residence until the individual has fully demonstrated his or her eligibility, including "good conduct" throughout a lengthy period (often ten years). Because the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) became aware of this practice during 2000, for the first time, USCR is counting as refugees the formerly admitted refugees remaining in Japan with temporary permits (an estimated 3,200 persons) because it no longer regards them as having a durable solution.

At the beginning of 2000, some 170 asylum applications were pending with the Japanese government. During the year, another 216 persons applied for asylum. Most applicants were from Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, and Turkey. The government adjudicated 160 applications, approving 22 (14 percent) in the first instance (with no cases approved on appeal) and rejecting 138. Another 25 persons withdrew their cases. At the end of the year, 202 cases were pending first-instance decisions.

Asylum Law and Procedure

Amendments to Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act came into effect in February 2000. Certain provisions may affect some categories of asylum seekers.

The revised law imposes penalties (fines and imprisonment) for persons who enter Japan without authorization or who enter legally but stay without authorization. During the year, UNHCR received no reports of asylum seekers being penalized under this provision.

The law also increases from one to five years the period during which persons who were deported from Japan are denied re-entry. This provision could affect UNHCR mandate refugees who resided in Japan without authorization and were formally "deported" to resettlement countries.

Requests for asylum must be filed within 60 days of arrival in Japan (or 60 days after the need for protection arose), unless "unavoidable circumstances" prevent timely application. UNHCR estimated that about half of all rejected asylum applications in 2000 were rejected on procedural grounds such as this "60-day rule." UNHCR added that while no refugee was apparently recognized by Japan after meeting the "unavoidable circumstances" exception, a number of refugees benefited from a generous application of the sur place provision of Japan's refugee law (for persons who became refugees on the basis of events in their homeland after they fled).

In July 1999, Japan ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, which stipulates that signatories will not return a person to a country where he or she may be subject to torture. Japan did not adopt any new laws to implement the Convention, saying instead that all obligations under the Convention are "fully undertaken by existing laws and regulations."

During the year, Japan allowed 31 rejected asylum applicants to remain in the country with special resident status based on humanitarian concerns. The status is renewable on a yearly basis. Japan does not release the nationalities of such persons or the reasons they were granted humanitarian status. Ten persons granted humanitarian status were either considered refugees under UNHCR's mandate or were "of concern" to UNHCR. UNHCR asked the government not to deport them because of civil strife in their homelands. Others had never approached UNHCR.

Restrictive Measures

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UNHCR have expressed concern that Japan uses visa requirements, airline sanctions, and other strategies to prevent would-be asylum seekers from reaching Japan.

Japan continued to implement 1997 amendments to its refugee law, under which persons arriving without proper documents must be detained. If an individual raises a refugee claim, immigration examiners assess that claim and may grant provisional release. Refugee advocates have criticized the policy, saying immigration examiners often deny provisional release until the applicant has been detained for at least one year.

In 2000, the government granted provisional release to six UNHCR mandate refugees following interventions by UNHCR. These included five rejected asylum seekers who were in detention when they first approached UNHCR and were later recognized as mandate refugees. Two mandate refugees released in 1999 were again detained in 2000, for committing crimes and for having repeatedly failed to comply with reporting requirements, respectively.

Japanese authorities assured UNHCR that all applications at ports of entry, including airports, are duly processed. The media, however, reported on persons denied access to the asylum procedure and abused in detention facilities.

The detention center at Narita Airport (known as the Landing Prevention Facility), while established and funded by Japan's immigration authorities, is operated by private security companies. In June, reports that two Tunisians detained at the facilities were beaten and forced to pay $300 each prompted human rights groups to call for a government monitoring system at these facilities. In September, lawyers filed a criminal complaint against the president of the security company and three of its guards.

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