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At least 13 of the 41 foreign nationals granted refugee status in 2007 had to resort to the courts because the government initially rejected their requests, data compiled by the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees showed Tuesday.

Supporters of asylum seekers said people who were initially denied refugee status might have had their lives put at risk had they been deported without taking their cases to court.

“The Justice Ministry’s refugee screening is too strict,” said Shogo Watanabe, head of the network’s secretariat.

The Justice Ministry announced last week that it granted refugee status to 41 people in 2007, compared with 34 the previous year, while denying the status to 446 people.

The lawyer group said at least 13 of these people — 12 Myanmar nationals and one Bangladeshi — won refugee status only after they filed lawsuits against the justice minister to annul the ministry’s rejections.

Japan is known to be particularly hesitant among industrialized countries to accommodate refugees.

In 2005, the government revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in part to let private citizens take part in examining appeals filed by people seeking refugee status against the government’s decisions to reject their applications.

But last year, only four people were granted refugee status after their appeals were recognized via this system.

A number of asylum seekers have already gone to court this year to fight their cases after the panel involving private citizens threw out their appeals — with some of them winning refugee recognition in court.

“The situation shows that the new system is not functioning,” Watanabe said.

An official at the Justice Ministry’s refugee recognition office said the ministry cannot comment on whether any case is recognized as a result of court action because it concerns private circumstances that could lead to the identification of individuals.

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