Japan failing its obligation to aid asylum seekers

Japan accepted just six asylum seekers last year, the lowest number in 15 years, according to the Justice Ministry. Japan’s refugee acceptance rate has plummeted from an already astoundingly low of 0.6 percent of those who applied in 2012 to the even lower 0.16 percent last year. Total applicants, however, were up.

Last year, 3,260 people applied for asylum in Japan, the most on record. Last year’s minuscule acceptance rate is equivalent to accepting none at all.

The rate is one more piece of evidence that Japan’s insularity is increasing. The Justice Ministry may feel that refusing so many asylum seekers in need of protection is somehow just a matter of protecting Japanese society or applying strict standards. The bottom line, though, is that Japan has the lowest acceptance rate of any developed country.

The United Kingdom, Germany and France, countries with populations smaller than Japan, each grants asylum to more people annually than the total that applied to Japan last year.

Asylum applicants increased around the world in 2013. The number Japan receives is minuscule compared with the 88,400 applications in the United States, 60,100 in France, 54,300 in Sweden and 44,800 in Turkey.

Japan is a signatory to the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

However, it has yet to fully live up to its obligations. Accepting asylum seekers is a basic principle of international justice and one excellent way to offer sanctuary to those in need.

Of the 3,260 cases in 2013, there were applications from 658 Turks, 544 Nepalese and 380 Myanmarese — the three largest nationalities — with others from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries with ongoing violent conflicts. Japan rejected almost all of them.

And of that total, 2,404 were legitimate visa holders already legally resident in Japan who took the additional step of applying for asylum. It’s hard to understand why they were given visas in the first place if such a large percentage would never qualify for asylum status.

It appears that the Justice Ministry is not applying stringent standards, but rather following its established set of criteria to exclude asylum seekers as a general policy.

The Justice Ministry seems to have a highly limited conception of justice for those refugees who suffer persecution in their own countries.

Worldwide, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported 612,700 asylum seekers in 2013.

The number of refugees worldwide is estimated by the office of the UNHCR at 37 million. Those numbers will continue to increase as conflicts remain unresolved.

Of that massive number of people forced from their homelands to another country because of persecution, suffering, loss of their homes or fear for their lives, Japan accepted just six. That figure must be changed.