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As nations worldwide rush to support Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Wednesday that Japan is planning to accept Ukrainian refugees at an early date.

The government will initially accept those who have fled Ukraine and have relatives or acquaintances in Japan, Kishida said.

Kishida said he made the pledge during a phone conversation with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki. Thousands of Ukrainians have fled their home country via neighboring Poland.

The prime minister’s announcement followed remarks from the justice minister that Japan is considering creating a framework that would allow displaced Ukrainians to come and settle in the country.

Around 660,000 refugees had fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in the six days since Russian soldiers invaded the country, according to the UNHCR. It is unlikely that a large portion of them will head to Japan or other East Asian destinations, but Tokyo still plans to help them enter the country if they do.

Between Feb. 11 and Feb. 28, just 37 Ukrainians entered Japan, including 21 people who re-entered, according to the government.

“We will consider a system to accept people fleeing from Ukraine as early as possible,” Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

Furukawa was responding to questions from Komeito lawmaker Yoshinori Oguchi, who called on the government to create a system similar to the one established in the late 1970s, under which Japan accepted refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Between 1978 and 2005, Japan accepted about 11,000 refugees from the three countries, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Kishida said Tuesday that he agreed with leaders of the United States and other developed countries to cooperate on supporting displaced Ukrainians.

If Ukrainians apply for refugee status in Japan, authorities will determine whether to grant the status on a case-by-case basis, said Takuji Nishiyama, deputy commissioner with the Immigration Services Agency.

“If they are not granted refugee status, we will consider granting residential status based on humanitarian grounds,” Nishiyama said during the Diet session on Tuesday.

For years, Japan has been facing calls from the UNHCR and the international community to accept more refugees. Out of 3,936 applicants in 2020, Japan granted refugee status to only 47 people, according to the Justice Ministry.

The government is still in the process of mapping out its immigration policies for Ukrainians, but so far, they are considering the following moves:

  • Allowing an extension of residential status to Ukrainians currently in Japan
  • Allowing alternatives to PCR testing measures before arrival
  • Allowing Ukrainians to enter the country separately from the current 5,000-person daily entry cap
  • Allowing Ukrainian relatives of Japanese nationals to come to Japan, including spouses and children

“This is an emergency. Japan will accept people who need protection,” Furukawa said. “We will accept the relatives of Japanese nationals as much as possible.”

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