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Many Japanese Surprised Their Country Accepts Very Few Refugees

Categories: East Asia, Japan, Citizen Media, Disaster, Humanitarian Response, Migration & Immigration, War & Conflict
Tokyo Skyline With Mount Fuji.

Tokyo Skyline With Mount Fuji. Source: Wikimedia [1].

A recent English-language article in UK newspaper the Guardian about Japan has been shared hundreds of times on Japanese social media.

Many Japanese commenters are shocked that, according to the Guardian [2], Japan is planning to accept few, if any, Syrian refugees.

The typical reaction of Japanese Twitter users was one of shame:

I am embarrassed.

While other Twitter users argued that Japan has an obligation to help refugees:

Japan, the country that accepts very few refugees. Japan evades responsibility by saying the problem is [in a far-off country], but we accept far too few refugees. While it's tempting say Japan has been preoccupied by the Legislation for Peace and Security [9], and that everyone has focused their energies on opposing these new unconstitutional laws, it's really no excuse at all.

Anyone who supports parliamentary democracy based on a constitution should never ignore the plight of refugees.

Taking to Twitter, entertainer Ryuchi Sato observed:

More than 4 million Syrians have left their country. About 340,000 have reached Europe. Germany has promised to accept 500,000 refugees; France, 24,000; the UK, 20,000 (over five years); the United States, 10,000 (over the next year); Australia, 12,000; Venezuela, 20,000; Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and others have also agreed to accept refugees.

How many refugees has Japan accepted so far? A grand total of three.

Traditionally, Japan has accepted very few refugees compared to other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [11]. In March 2015 [12], The Economist magazine had already noted:

Last year [2014], the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people topped 50m worldwide for the first time. In Japan there were more asylum applications than at any time since the country signed the UN refugee convention in 1981.

According to the more recent Guardian article currently being circulated on Japanese social media, in 2014 Japan accepted just 11 asylum seekers out of 5,000 applicants.

As well, according to the Guardian article [13]:

Of 60 Syrians already living in Japan who had applied for refugee status, three had been successful and another 30 or so had been given permission to stay long-term for humanitarian reasons.

Hiroaki Ishii, the executive director of the Japan Association for Refugees [14], was quoted in a Mainichi newspaper interview as calling Japan a “closed country” for refugees:

Hirokaki Ishii, executive director of the Japan Association for Refugees says, “Given the financial support to date for refugees one would have to say that Japan is indifferent to refugees. We're calling on the Japanese government to soften its position on humanitarian grounds.”

Others noted how the issue is being portrayed as a faraway problem. Nobuto Nosaka [17], who, as mayor of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward has his finger on the pulse of what regular people actually think, pointed to that characterization in a tweet linking to a column he authored for Huffington Post Japan:

Even as Syrians are applying for refuge here, in Japan the issue is being called the “European refugee crisis.” This humanitarian crisis is being treated as someone else's problem.

In another article for the HuffPo [20], Nosaka argued that Japan must respond in meaningful way to the “calamity” occurring in Syria.

He also noted that Japan's stance on accepting (or, more precisely, refusing) refugees dates back at least to the era of the Vietnam “boat people” [21] of the late 1970s. At that time, according to Nosaka, Japan contributed funding and expertise to help build camps in Indonesia for refugees fleeing Vietnam, and also provided resources for retraining and resettlement in other countries.

However, then as now, Japan was a “closed country” for refugees.