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Over 10,000 sought refugee status in Japan in 2016, including job-seekers: sources

Kyodo

Japan received applications for refugee status from more than 10,000 people in 2016, with a certain portion of them estimated to be people seeking the status to find work rather than to gain protection, sources said Tuesday.

Applications have sharply increased following a 2010 reform allowing asylum seekers to work in Japan once their applications have been under consideration for longer than six months. A total of 7,586 people filed for the status in 2015, which was a record high at that time, compared with 1,202 in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of people actually granted asylum has been between six to 39 from 2010 to 2015 — a level that has invited criticism from other countries that Japan is closed to refugees. The Justice Ministry has not yet released the official figures for 2016.

Ministry officials believe some applications were filed for reasons not recognized as persecution under the U.N. convention governing refugees, including fleeing from debts and neighborhood disputes.

Applicants also include many students attending language schools and foreigners taking job training programs, they say.

In light of concerns over such applications, the ministry introduced a prescreening process in September 2015 to weed out those who repeatedly apply for refugee status even though they obviously do not fall into the category, giving priority to those deemed to be in genuine need of protection.