Justice Ministry plans to ditch refugee role

by Setsuko Kamiya

Staff Writer

The parliamentary secretary of the Justice Ministry said Monday that the Democratic Party of Japan-led government will aim to establish a new organization to deal specifically with refugee issues and eliminate that function from the ministry.

Many experts are calling for the ministry to spin off the administrative functions of the refugee application process because of the conflict of interest presented by asylum seekers.

The experts say that asylum seekers, who come to Japan seeking protection from persecution, should not be handled by the same ministry responsible for enforcing immigration control, including the deportation of illegal aliens.

At the World Refugee Day 2011 Symposium held the same day at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Takahiro Kuroiwa of the DPJ said that while Japan’s policy on accepting refugees has made progress in recent years, the Justice Ministry needs to work harder to make the process of granting refugee status fairer.

Kuroiwa said that the DPJ has written in its 2009 Policy Index that it will separate refugee-related administrative functions from the Justice Ministry and establish a special committee on refugees as an external agency of the Cabinet Office.

Akihiko Kitamura, director of the refugee recognition section in the Immigration Bureau, which answers to the ministry, told The Japan Times that the government is basically headed in same the direction set by the ruling party on this issue.

But Kitamura also said that creating a new organization will take time.

Monday’s symposium was held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as the 30th year since Japan became a signatory member of the treaty.

U.N. and government officials discussed the issue with nonprofit organizations and refugees at the symposium, including an ongoing pilot project to accept Myanmar refugees in Thailand.

Participants agreed that the speed of the application process for first-time applicants has recently improved, but some said that despite the increase in applicants, the number awarded refugee status is still small.