Japan’s prime minister said that his nation needs to attend to its own demographic challenges posed by falling birth rates and an aging population before opening its doors to refugees.
He said Japan will provide $1.5 billion in emergency aid for refugees and for stabilization of communities facing upheaval. But speaking to reporters later Tuesday he poured cold water on the idea of Japan opening its doors to those fleeing.
“I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise (the) birth rate.
“I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise (the) birth rate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants”.
One of the world’s wealthiest countries, Japan accepted just 28 refugees in 2016 – one more than the previous year – out of the 8,193 applications reviewed by the Immigration Bureau.
Officials defend the low number, saying applicants are mainly from Asian countries seeking access to Japan solely for economic reasons.
“The number of applications from regions which generate lots of refugees, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, is small,” said Yasuhiro Hishida, spokesman for the Immigration Bureau.
Japan rejected 99 per cent of asylum applications last year, accepting only 27 refugees, government figures have shown.
The country’s justice ministry said on Saturday it received a record 7,586 asylum applications in 2015, up 50 percent compared to the year before.
Asylum seekers from Nepal topped the list of those arriving in 2015, with 1,768 submissions.
The accepted applicants included six from Afghanistan, three Syrians, three Ethiopians and three Sri Lankans.
Japan, which faces a demographic problem due to an ageing population and declining birthrates, is the world’s third largest economy and runs the tightest refugee recognition system among industrialised economies.
In 2014, it granted refugee status to just 11 people, out of 5,000 applicants.
Saori Fujita, an official for the Immigration Bureau of Japan, was quoted by the Japan Times website as saying that 2015’s increase was due to a rise in the number of Indonesian applicants.
Fujita said 17 Indonesians applied in 2014, compared to 969 last year.
The Japan Association for Refugees said despite the progress in recent years, more applicants should be accepted.
“We hope that (Japan) will hold discussions with UNHCR and NGOs and swiftly consider measures to certify refugees in line with international standards,” it said.
Japan’s Refugee Recognition Act does not include war refugees in its narrow interpretation of the International Refugee Convention.
On Wednesday, Japan’s parliament approved $350m in humanitarian aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, which is to complement a $810m package approved last year, according toDeutsche Welle.
Asked by reporters at the UN General Assembly last September whether Japan would join other countries in accepting Syrian refugees, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe replied that his country needed to boost its own workforce first by empowering more women and older people to work.
“As an issue of demography, I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise [the] birthrate,” he said, according to the official translation of his comments.
“There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants.”