Asylum seekers break record as stricter screenings leave some homeless

Kyodo

Foreigners set a new record for asylum requests in Japan this year while a stricter screening system for granting assistance rendered more than 50 of them homeless, officials said Monday.

From January to October, applications had already soared to 2,004, eclipsing the previous record of 1,867 set in 2011, the Justice Ministry said.

Since refugees often arrive in a financially precarious state after fleeing oppression in their countries, the Japanese government provides ¥1,500 a day in aid through the Refugee Assistance Headquarters.

It also used to provide free housing for those lacking a place to live.

But no more. The government recently tightened its screening process for housing assistance after several pending refugees were arrested and charged with swindling public money while working illegally.

As a result, foreigners seeking asylum in Japan must now wait longer to receive public support in advance.

To receive a rent-free apartment, asylum seekers used to wait for several days. Now they must wait at least a month and a half or two, according to the Japan Association for Refugees.

As they await the results of their screenings, more and more asylum seekers are exhausting their aid money, and some have been forced onto the streets, the association said.

The association has managed to secure housing for about 30 asylum seekers with the help of other organizations, but there are still more than 20 seeking shelter.

The Foreign Ministry said it will try to speed up the screening process but insists that it must thoroughly assess the eligibility of the applicants and check out cases where people are suspected of illegally receiving public support.

Applications are on the rise from people in Turkey, Pakistan and African countries, although the reasons are a mystery, the Justice Ministry said.

In 2011, only 21 people were granted refugee status in Japan.