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Report on 11th SDGs Seminar: Current Status of and Issues in Japan’s Refugee Support including Amendment of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act


Guest Speaker Ms. Mutsumi Akasaka

For the 11th SDGs Seminar, held on May 25, 2021, Ms. Mutsumi Akasaka, the public relations team manager at the Japan Association for Refugees, addressed the above topic, speaking about the global refugee situation and the current status of Japan’s refugee support, along with the issues this presents. “Leave no one behind” is the central, transformative promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but 79.5 million people around the world—one percent of the human race—have currently been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. In 2019, Japan’s refugee recognition rate was only 0.4 percent, or 44 people. At the seminar, we considered why this situation had come about and what is preventing Japan from taking in refugees.

Refugees seeking resettlement in Japan face a host of difficulties, including barriers to employment, unfamiliarity with the Japanese language and Japanese culture, and the difficulty of accessing medical care. The biggest obstacle, however, lies in Japan’s refugee recognition system. This is problematic on many fronts, including (1) the four-year processing time for refugee applications, approximately twice as long as other countries; (2) no assurance of the independence of the screening institution; (3) insufficient screening transparency (representatives may not attend the initial screening); (4) differences in interpretation of the Refugee Convention between the UNHCR and Japan; and (5) limited public financial assistance. The seminar really brought home to me the importance of providing refugees with more comprehensive support. I felt that understanding the refugee situation and providing direct assistance where necessary, including legal and livelihood support would reduce refugees’ anxiety at least a little. I also learnt about the importance of not just “inward-looking” support, but also “outward-looking” support, such as support and PR activities conducted in conjunction with university students and other bodies and policy recommendations directed at ensuring that the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act is amended as sought by refugees.

Scene from the online seminar

The aging society with fewer children which Japan has been experiencing in recent years has drawn attention to foreign workers. If we could make use of many healthy and able skilled refugees across the economy, it would further broaden Japan’s possibilities. The seminar taught me that comprehensive support and collaboration are the keys to resolving the refugee issues, which will in turn contribute to the advance of Japan. For those reasons too, I really felt the need to stand in refugee shoes in considering what I myself can do and taking action accordingly.

(Haruka Adachi, fourth-year student, Department of Mathematics, Faculty of Science)

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