Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, urged Japan on Saturday to recognize more asylum seekers as refugees in order to fulfill its international humanitarian obligations.

“While Japan has financially contributed to the refugee-support projects, it needs to accept and protect more refugees,” Ogata said in a message contributed to a symposium on refugee issues sponsored by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations in Tokyo.

She also said Japan risks damaging its international reputation if it does not do so.

According to UNHCR statistics, Japan recognized only 91 asylum seekers as refugees during the 10-year period between 1992 and 2001, while many other advanced nations opened their doors to tens of thousands of refugees.

In the same period, Britain recognized 92,669; Canada 129,111; France 61,913; Germany 165,211; Italy 7,151; and the United States 113,537.

Japan has accepted about 100,000 people every year from overseas as “so-called entertainers,” she said. “I wonder if Japan favors entertainment under its immigration control over refugees.”

She noted that Japanese insularism and prejudice against foreigners are behind the poor treatment of refugees.

“We need to recognize the world problems as our own and understand that refugees should be guaranteed human rights in Japan,” she said.

The Japanese government has emphasized the importance of excluding those who illegally apply for refugee status in order to seek purely economic and material support.

But Ogata called on immigration officials to deal with asylum seekers with a “humanitarian” rather than a “bureaucratic” spirit.

The JFBA unveiled proposals earlier this month to improve procedures for certifying refugees. The proposals feature the termination of the 60-day limit for people arriving in Japan to apply for refugee status.

An advisory panel to Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama earlier this month recommended extending that limit to between six months and one year. But the JFBA said the proposed extension will not lead to the recognition of more refugees.

The lawyers’ group also proposed establishing a new organization to examine refugee applications that would be independent from the government bodies in charge of immigration control and diplomacy.

At present, recognition of refugee status falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau.

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