Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Will Japan's Refugee Policy Change?
TAKIZAWA Saburo / Special Advisor, Japan for UNHCR

May 12, 2022
The war in Ukraine, in which the Ukrainian military is resisting the Russian invasion with the risk of national survival, has shocked the world. Russian forces have committed massacres of residents and other war crimes, and five million people have fled to neighboring countries such as Poland and Moldova. The burden on neighboring host countries is heavy.

Government and Private Sector Movements
Japan's response to this situation has been swift. The government has made clear its stance in solidarity with the G7 against Russia's attempts to change the international order by force, and quickly decided to provide $200 million in humanitarian aid and $300 million in economic assistance, in addition to tough economic sanctions.

The government has also been proactive in accepting refugees from Ukraine, and under the Prime Minister's personal direction, ministries and agencies are providing generous assistance in the areas of housing, employment, education, and so on. It is unusual for the prime minister himself to give instructions on the refugee issue.

Nearly 700 displaced persons from Ukraine have been accepted by the end of April. Their status of residence is not “Refugees” but “Designated Activity”, which makes it possible for them to work. The 1951 Refugee Convention recognizes as refugees those who are at risk of persecution for five reasons: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Those who are displaced on the grounds of war, as was the case this time, are not considered refugees on that basis alone. However, displaced persons can apply for refugee status, and some may eventually be recognized as refugees.
This response is similar to the Temporary Protection Directive issued by the EU after the Russian invasion. Under the Directive, displaced persons who flee to European countries are granted residency for up to three years and the same rights as refugees in terms of housing, social welfare, medical care, and education.

Japan's current Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act provides no legal basis for accepting such displaced persons. Therefore, the government plans to submit a draft amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to the Diet this fall to create a status of residence "quasi-refugees" or "persons under complementary protection," which would treat displaced persons in the same manner as refugees.

Private sector support for Ukraine is also extremely active. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the City of Yokohama, and many other municipalities and companies have offered to accept displaced Ukrainians, and several universities have begun accepting some of them as international students. So many offers of support have been received that the Immigration Services Agency has set up a coordination office. In terms of funding, the Nippon Foundation has offered to provide 5 billion yen, and many international cooperation NGOs have collected large donations. Donations to Japan for UNHCR, with which the author is involved, exceed 100 million yen per day on average.

Background of the public-private "aid boom
Why is it that Japan, which is said to have little interest in refugee issues, is so active in supporting Ukraine, a country so far away?

First of all, there is a strong sense of sympathy. The daily news reports of the devastation in Ukraine, including bombings of hospitals and schools and massacres of civilians, the fact that the majority of the displaced are women and children, and the fact that Ukraine, with its inferior military power, is fighting a good fight under President Zelensky, have motivated people to support the country.

There is also anger. The fact that a country that is supposed to be responsible for protecting international peace and security as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has ignored international law and invaded a neighboring country, threatening it with nuclear weapons, is absolutely unforgivable to the highly law-abiding Japanese government and people. Anger at the aggressor country enhances the public opinion to support Ukraine, the victim.

Finally, there is a sense of insecurity. Russia, which occupies the Northern Territories, is threatening Japan by conducting military exercises in the vicinity of Japan. Anxiety that Japan's national security will be threatened if Russia's acts of aggression are left unchecked, such as by China's military actions against the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan, is driving the support actions.

Will Japan's refugee policy change?
The unanimous view of the public and private sectors in Japan is that if it is not possible to provide military assistance, they would at least like to help the Ukrainian government by accepting Ukrainians who flee to Japan or by providing financial assistance. In a poll of public opinion on further acceptance of displaced persons, around 70% were in favor.
What impact will such a response have on Japan's refugee policy? First, the creation of "complementary protection" is a major change in refugee policy; the limitations of the 1951 Refugee Convention have long been pointed out, but the creation of "complementary protection" has the potential to go beyond such limitations and will likely lead to the acceptance of refugees and displaced persons from many countries in the future.

Diversification of refugee admission methods will also increase. The government is accepting about 20 Ukrainian refugees by plane every week, which is a de fact expansion of the "third-country resettlement program" that began in 2010. The government and private sector are also expanding "alternative legal pathways" such as the acceptance of students as international students. The “aid boom” for the Ukrainians has unexpectedly set an example of a joint public-private support for refugees and displaced persons, which is required by the "Global Compact on Refugees" established by the United Nations in 2018.
This year marks the 40th year since Japan joined the Refugee Convention in 1982 and the refugee status system was created. Japan's proactive stance on displaced persons from Ukraine may provide an opportunity to change Japan's refugee policy, which has been criticized as "refugee exclusion," and, eventually, the national attitudes toward refugees and victims of forced displacement in the world.

Saburo Takizawa is Vice Chairman of The Board of Directors at Care International Japan and Emeritus Professor at Toyo Eiwa University
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

滝澤 三郎 / 国連UNHCR協会特別顧問

2022年 5月 12日














筆者は東洋英和女学院大学名誉教授 ケア・インターナショナル・ジャパン副理事長
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Will Japan's Refugee Policy Change?