Japan is good at many things, but taking in refugees ain’t one of them. In 2019, just 44 were accepted. Now, the government has proposed changes to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that will make it even harder for asylum seekers in Japan. Freelance journalist Jesse Chase-Lubitz joined the latest edition of the Deep Dive podcast to discuss the issue.

The changes are being sold as a way to resolve the issue of the long-term detention of foreign nationals facing deportation orders, allowing asylum-seekers to be released — if they have up to ¥3 million on hand — and giving protection to those who don’t qualify for refugee status.

Some media were quick to point out that Kafka-esque problems with the system remain unaddressed, such as refugees having to prove their persecution with documentary evidence, and their fate being decided at the whim of bureaucrats, not the courts, notes Philip Brasor in Media Mix.

Deep Dive podcast, Episode 88: Japan's plan to clamp down on asylum seekers | THE JAPAN TIMES
Deep Dive podcast, Episode 88: Japan’s plan to clamp down on asylum seekers | THE JAPAN TIMES

Amnesty International Japan said that it had “strong concern” about the bill, which could result in refugees being sent back into danger, and that Japan continues to maintain detention as a routine approach instead of a last resort. The group also pointed out that the bill does not set a limit to the period of detention, something AIJ and U.N. agencies have criticized in the past.

The perils of locking up asylum seekers in the middle of a pandemic were illustrated in February when a COVID-19 cluster developed at a Tokyo immigration facility. But “provisional release” from detention under the current system is no panacea.

Without the benefit of refugee status, former detainees are unable to work or receive welfare, Kyodo reports, as it zeroes in on the plight of Kurdish asylum seekers in Saitama Prefecture. “It’s like putting them in a homelessness situation,” says one expert, who believes this catch-22 may violate the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.