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HOME  > Past issues  > 2022 April 27 - May 10  > Japan should grant refugee status to Ukrainian evacuees
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2022 April 27 - May 10 [POLITICS]

Japan should grant refugee status to Ukrainian evacuees

April 27, 2022

Akahata editorial

The number of evacuees from Ukraine has topped five million. More than 700 of them have entered Japan with the possibility of a further increase. The government decided to provide emergency support measures for the Ukrainian evacuees. Rapid support that fits their needs is essential.

Meanwhile, there is no living support measure for 4,600 evacuees, as of the end of March, who fled Myanmar when a coup took place last year. The government only gives them special residence permits with which they are allowed to work under certain conditions. It is unreasonable for Japan to respond differently in terms of offering humanitarian support. There should be no difference in the need for support for any person who comes to Japan to escape from violence or persecution.

Value the spirit of UN Refugee Convention

The spirit of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is to protect any person who is in need of protection owing to "fear of being persecuted" and is "unable to avail himself of the protection of that country". Ukrainian evacuees should be protected as "refugees" under the Refugee Convention.

However, the Japanese government repeatedly claims that people fleeing from situations of war and armed conflict are not "refugees" as defined by the Convention. The government calls them "evacuees". The support the government provides is limited to only the Ukrainians who have no connections in Japan. It insists that their relatives or acquaintances must be the first to look after them. Japan is far from fulfilling its responsibility as a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

In the first place, Japan is a country which does not easily grant refugee status. It recognizes only leaders of pro-democracy movement as refugees. It strictly determines what the Convention refers to as "refugee status": Persecution must be systematic and asylum-seekers must be unable to receive the protection of governments concerned; those who fled armed conflict or war are not refugees; and they must submit evidentiary materials even if they fled with only the barest of necessities.

These were the ideas employed around the time when the Refugee Convention was adopted in 1951. One of the problems is that the protection under the Convention does not cover people fleeing armed conflict or war. In Africa, refugee status is automatically given. However, in European countries, particularly the major states, do not easily give refugee status. This is the international agenda. Therefore, the international community step-by-step extended the scope of refugees.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2016 issued Guidelines on International Protection to indicate a policy on refugee status determination. The Guidelines state that the Refugee Convention is directly applicable to civilians displaced by situations of armed conflict and violence between two or more states.

It is necessary for Japan to change its present stance and recognize evacuees who fled war or armed conflict as refugees.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said that he will work to create a system to recognize those who evacuated from areas of conflict as "subject to complementary protection" by amending the Immigration Control Act, but draft revisions were scrapped last year. However, Japan can still accept and give support to evacuees under the existing law.

Amendments to Immigration Control Act are use of deceptive tactics

Under the scrapped amendments to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, serious human rights abuses in the Japanese immigration administration were left untouched; those who try to escape deportation face a criminal charge; and a new system would be created to promptly deport asylum-seekers.

The Kishida government called for the amendments to the Immigration Control Act which allowed more human rights violations on the pretext of "complementary protection". What deceptive tactics it devised! Japan should review its refugee status determination under the Refugee Convention and fundamentally correct the present refugee recognition system by seriously listening to the discussion in the international community.
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