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Refugees in Japan

In 2004, the U.S. accepted 21,148 refugees, France 15,866, the U.K. 12,925, and Japan 15. Even though Japan is not poor and is a leading international aid donor, it ranks 98th in refugee acceptance worldwide and last among the top 30 industrialized counties. Japan is a close neighbor to China, the third largest refugee producing country in the world, yet it has accepted only three Chinese refugees in 23 years. Worse, Japan has an informal arrangement with China, where Chinese refugees who arrive in Japan by boat, are automatically returned to the Chinese authorities where they pretty much face death. The following is an extensive report on Japan's restrictive immigration policies, Policy of Exclusion of Refugees - Part 1 and Part 2.

Behind the closed refugee policy, a history of accepting refugees slanted towards national interest emerges contrary to the perception that Japan does not have much experience in accepting refugees. From the 5th century, large numbers of Koreans, victims of wars between competing states, fled the Korean peninsula to Japan, according to Homma Hiroshi, a professor of law at Hosei University. Given the fact that the Korean peninsula was more developed than Japan, many were assimilated well and made valuable cultural and productive contributions.

Japan continued to accept both immigrants and refugees from neighboring lands, until the Tokugawa closed Japan to outsiders in the years 1600-1868. This action was taken ostensibly to protect the country from Christianity and from invasion by Western powers in the 17th century. In the late 19th century, Japan's reformist Meiji government opened Japan once more to the outside world. But a closed-society mentality, nurtured during the Tokugawa era, persisted at the grassroots level, according to Professor Homma.

Japan did accept White Russian refugees after WWI and Jewish refugees during WWII. However, those accepted tended to be the wealthy or intellectual elite. After the Vietnam War, the government accepted around 10,000 "Indochina refugees" for resettlement between 1978 and 1984. This was done by cabinet decision under immense American pressure. But it proved to be an exception rather than the beginning of a new openness. Professor Homma concluded, "In 1981, Japan ratified the 1951 Convention, but closed attitudes towards foreigners have not changed, nor has accepting asylum seekers regardless of national interests."


Posted by zorkmidden on Mar 10, 2006 2:00 pm

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