Last year, Japan granted refugee status to just 20 out of a record-high 19,629 applicants. After the figure was released in February, global and domestic coverage was noticeably polarized.

Some slammed Japan's strict asylum policy, saying that the world's third-largest economy has failed to meet its responsibilities as a signatory of the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Others, however, maintained that the majority of the applicants are "fake refugees," or migrant workers who just tried to abuse an apparent loophole in the refugee application system to get a special work permit in Japan.

Which is true? Experts say there may be some truth to both, given the complex reality surrounding the refugee status applicants in Japan. Here's a closer look at the controversial refugee screening system and recent spike in asylum applications.