The number of people seeking asylum in Japan jumped 53 percent in 2014 from the previous year, hitting a record 5,000.
During the year, however, the central government recognized only 11 as refugees — the second lowest in a decade, the Justice Ministry’s annual report showed Tuesday.
In another record, 2,533 of the 5,000 people were re-applying for asylum status after being snubbed during the first screening process.
Of the 5,000, 1,293 were from Nepal, more than doubling the 544 in 2013. None from the South Asian country were granted refugee status, a ministry official confirmed.
A rise in the number of Vietnamese asylum seekers was also conspicuous, with 294 applying, a nearly tenfold increase from the previous year. The number of Thais skyrocketed as well, to 136 — about eight times higher than 2013.
A Justice Ministry official told reporters that the overall surge in asylum seekers partly stems from a recent spike in applicants whose testimonies of persecution was unconvincing or who don’t fit Japan’s criteria for refugee recognition.
“Our overall impression is that an increasing number of applicants seek asylum from us so they can work here,” the official said, adding that the ministry doesn’t believe all unsuccessful applicants have such ulterior motives.
A change in immigration policy in 2010 made it legal for asylum seekers who have a legitimate visa status at the time of application to work full time while they await the results of their application.
Since that shift in policy, the number of refugee applications from legitimate visa holders, including those on tourist, exchange student and technical intern visas, has steadily increased, to 4,134 in 2014 compared with 668 in 2010.
Meanwhile, Japan’s refugee system is dogged by controversy.
An advisory panel tasked with scrutinizing the refugee system made a set of recommendations in December to the Justice Ministry, proposing among other things that the government take an active step to make its notoriously secretive criteria for recognizing refugees public.
The panel also said Japan’s system should be brought more in line with global standards.
To speed up the slow screening process, the panel of outside immigration experts suggested the government assign more staff to scrutinize applicants.
In addition, to better safeguard asylum seekers who are deemed unfit for Japan’s rigorous criteria but still susceptible to the danger of persecution if repatriated, the panel urged the ministry adopt a system similar to what Europe calls “subsidiary protection,” in which beneficiaries are granted special residence permits.
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