Japan govt eyes ‘Quasi-refugee’ system prompted by Ukraine situation

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Displaced Ukrainians board a Japanese government airplane in Warsaw on April 4.

The government is considering establishing a “quasi-refugee” framework to create a legal basis for supporting people in Japan who have fled conflict zones.

The framework would allow displaced foreign nationals to receive the same treatment as people in Japan with refugee status.

The mass exodus of people from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion has highlighted the need for crafting a legal framework to accept people fleeing conflict zones.

The government aims to submit a bill in autumn to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law for this purpose.

During a plenary session of the House of Councillors on Wednesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the Justice Ministry was considering a system under which “people at risk of persecution” would be adequately supported.

The U.N. Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Japan’s refugee recognition system operates under an extremely strict interpretation of this definition. People fleeing the conflict in Ukraine would not meet the criteria to receive refugee status in Japan in principle.

Under the government’s proposed framework, foreign nationals whose home nations have become conflict zones and whose lives are at risk would be eligible for quasi-refugee status.

The government has provided displaced Ukrainians in Japan with support such as handouts to cover living expenses.

However, the legal basis for offering such assistance is opaque. Establishing a quasi-refugee system would expand the scope of support that could legally be provided to people displaced by war.

People recognized as quasi-refugees would be granted long-term residence status, enabling them to stay in Japan for five years, with the possibility of extending the period.

They would be eligible to join the national health insurance system, and receive employment support and welfare benefits, as is the case for people with refugee status.

The government hopes the new framework will ease criticism of Japan’s refugee recognition system, which approves an extremely small number of applicants.

The bill also contains a provision calling for a review of the situation regarding the long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration control facilities.

A similar bill submitted during last year’s regular Diet session was withdrawn, as opposition parties called for prioritizing an investigation into the death of a female detainee at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in March 2021.

The government has decided not to submit a bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law during the current Diet session as it is gearing up for summer’s upper house election.