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2015年8月14日 (金)

(社説)難民受け入れ 手を差しのべる姿勢を

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 13
EDITORIAL: Japan should open doors wider to welcome refugees
(社説)難民受け入れ 手を差しのべる姿勢を

One big humanitarian issue facing Japan is how it should deal with people who cannot remain in their own countries because of fears of possible persecution for race, religion or political opinions.

The Justice Ministry will shortly decide on a basic five-year plan on Japan’s stance on accepting foreign nationals.

In the past three years, Japan has granted refugee status to only 35 people. Critics have long pointed out that Japan’s figure has been tiny in comparison with other industrialized countries, which accept 100 to 1,000 refugees for every one recognized by Japan.

Worldwide, the number of people seeking asylum last year jumped 54 percent over the previous year to reach an all-time high, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This rapid growth in refugees is one of the most pressing humanitarian challenges confronting the world. The Justice Ministry’s new plan for accepting foreign nationals should be designed to ensure Japan will fulfill its international responsibility to tackle the challenge.

The ministry published a draft of its plan in June. It stressed Japan’s willingness to only accept people from other nations that it needs, such as those with particular skills and others who can work in the construction sector to help alleviate an expected shortage of workers in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, the draft blueprint has created the impression that Japan is reluctant to accept more refugees.

In analyzing the situation of asylum seekers in Japan, the document points out there are many foreign nationals who try to abuse the asylum system by applying for refugee status despite having no good reason for fearing persecution in their homeland.

The draft plan contains measures to deal with this problem. One measure would allow the ministry to reject asylum claims without full-scale screening in cases where the intention to abuse the program is clear. In such cases, the applicants would not be able to file a fresh application for refugee status until new relevant circumstances emerge.

In the meantime, an advisory panel of experts for the ministry called for the creation of a system to provide relief to people who don’t qualify as refugees under the international treaty but who nevertheless need protection. Yet, the draft plan offers no specific road map toward the goal.

In an unusual move, the UNHCR has officially voiced concerns about the content of the draft plan. The U.N. refugee agency has pointed out the risk that some people who really need protection could be rejected as fake refugees under the plan.

The Justice Ministry should pay serious attention to the UNHCR’s warning as a candid opinion expressed by a legitimate, experienced international organization working in the area.

Asylum seekers are allowed to work in Japan if they are residing legally in the country.

As there is a limit on the number of ordinary foreign nationals allowed to work in Japan, some people may apply for refugee status purely to be qualified to work here. But that does not justify being too eager to raise the bar for all asylum seekers.

It is not easy even for people who clearly qualify as refugees to prove that they deserve refugee status.

Generally, people become refugees under various situations of confusion. It is not unusual that even legitimate asylum seekers are unable to produce documents to support their asylum claims.

If the ministry intends to review the refugee screening process, the focus should be on why Japan has recognized only a far smaller number of refugees than other industrial nations and whether the screening is simply too rigorous.

Given the situation in such regions as the Middle East and Africa, an overwhelming majority of people who really need protection cannot reach Japan to seek asylum.

It is time for Japan to consider how it can provide effective relief to such people.


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