As Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown dominates world headlines, the refugee policies of another economic power have mostly escaped attention.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, received a record 10,901 applications for refuge in 2016, an increase of 44 per cent from the previous year.
But from those applications, the highly developed country accepted only 28 refugees in 12 months, according to data recently released by the Japanese government.
The report showed 1829 people from Indonesia sought asylum in Japan, followed by Nepal (1451) and the Philippines (1412).
Those Japan accepted were mostly from Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, while it wasn’t clear if the country had accepted anyone from Syria, which is in the grips of a humanitarian crisis.
The government said 97 applicants, though not recognised as refugees, were also allowed to stay for “humanitarian reasons”.
How does Australia compare?
As the migrant crisis continues throughout the world, Japan’s response provides a stark contrast to other highly developed countries in Europe and North America as well as Australia.
Immigration Department data showed Australia granted 17,555 visas under its Humanitarian Programme, while the government announced an extra 12,000 places for displaced Syrians and Iraqis last year.
Berlin, the German capital, approved 256,000 requests for asylum last year, according to Reuters.
Canada, which has embraced pro-refugee policies since the election of Justin Trudeau, accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and February 2016.
Last month, President Donald Trump announced a four-month temporary ban on the US’s refugee program, and a reduction of America’s overall yearly intake to 50,000. During the last financial year, it approved 84,995 refugees.
‘An issue of demography’
University of Sydney migration law expert Professor Mary Crock told The New Daily Japan had long forcefully argued that it was not a country of immigration like America, Australia or Canada.
“For many, many years Japan had made the decision not to take refugees but made up for it by giving money directly to the UNHCR,” she said.
Japan was the world’s fourth-largest donor to the UNHCR in 2016, giving $US164,726,114.
Despite its generous aid program, advocacy groups have been highly critical of Japan’s refugee intake.
Human Rights Watch recently launched a scathing attack on Japan’s policies as it released its World Report 2017.
Brian Barbour of the Japan Association for Refugees told The New Daily that 99 per cent of asylum applications were usually denied.
“When we look at the details of the system we can see that the definition of refugee used by Japan authorities is extremely narrow and with a very high burden of proof imposed against the applicant,” he said.
“Japan has a strong cultural identity and tends to view itself as homogenous, and takes a conservative view towards multiculturalism.”
In September, Japan said it would provide $1.6 billion ($A2.1 billion) in assistance for Syrians and Iraqis caught up in conflict.
Announcing that commitment at the UN, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said despite the country’s labour shortage due to its ageing population, it had no plans to increase its refugee intake.
“I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, elderly people and we must raise our birth rate,” he said.