Four Nepalese asylum applicants had their refugee claims rejected in October after entering the country disguised as Buddhist priests and claiming they wanted to visit victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and others, an Immigration Bureau official confirmed Monday.

It was the first rejection under new refugee recognition criteria put into effect in September, the official said.

According to the official, the four rejected applicants were among 12 Nepalese nationals who entered the country via Nagasaki Airport last May.

The applicants wore what appeared to be the clerical garments of Lamaist priests, and claimed to have come to Japan to comfort victims in Fukushima as well as to visit war memorial sites in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the official said.

The disguises were apparently designed to obtain short-stay visas as a stepping stone toward obtaining asylum.

The four applied for refugee status at an Immigration Bureau office in Nagoya around June, saying they could not return home due to economic reasons.

One of the four was rejected and sent to a detention center last October, as he was judged to have a clear intention to work, which is considered an invalid reason to apply for refugee status.

The other three were banned from work in Japan for re-applying for refugee status under the same reason as their previously rejected applications.

According to preliminary Justice Ministry figures released in January, the number of applicants for asylum reached a record 7,586 spanning 69 nationalities in 2015 — with Nepalese representing the largest group with 1,768 people.

The number of such people in Japan has surged dramatically since 2010, when the government made it possible for asylum seekers who hold a valid visa at the time of application to work full time while awaiting the result of their application.

But amid abuse of that system by bogus asylum seekers who continue to work while repeatedly applying, the Justice Ministry adopted a new recognition system in September that includes a policy to ban applicants from working in Japan if they re-apply for refugee status using a previously rejected reason.

The new policy also bans applicants from staying in Japan if their intention to apply is deemed to be other than seeking asylum.

Some asylum seekers are believed to be connected with brokers who advise them on how to acquire visas to enter the country and find labor, said Hiroshi Kimizuka, a director of the Immigration Bureau’s adjudication division.

“In Europe, asylum seekers use smartphones to share information about the easiest borders to break. But the situation in Japan is a little different, as they share information about how to dress (to increase the chance) of acquiring visas,” Kimizuka said.

While he understands that many Nepalese are struggling financially after the disastrous 2015 earthquake there, Kimizuka said accepting such people to work in Japan freely is a different story.

“There are different measures (to help them) from different perspectives. But I doubt accepting them as refugees is an answer,” he said.

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