The refugee crisis from the Middle East is at last being formally accepted and planned for on the international level. Germany is leading the way, expecting to take in 800,000 asylum seekers this year, and vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the country could take 500,000 refugees for several years. Even usually-resistant Australia under conservative P.M. Tony Abbott agreed on Wednesday to take an additional 12,000 persecuted minorities from Iraq and Syria, on top of the 13,750 people it settles annually under humanitarian visas.
But some developed countries remain reluctant outliers, like the U.S. which to date has only accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees and proposes a modest 5,000 to 8,000 next year. And then there is Japan, which is bucking the trend by cracking down further on asylum seekers.
Last year out of 5,000 asylum applicants, Japan accepted just 11. Tokyo does generously support the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) with financing — $167 million in the first half of this year, making it the second largest government donor — and political backing, but that’s it. Japanese society is culturally and ethnically very homogenous and not particularly welcoming to foreigners; in the name of tightening bureaucratic standards regarding refugees and ensuring full compliance the government aims to keep it that way.
The new measures Japan has proposed include deporting failed applicants, limiting repeat applications, and pre-screening new asylum seekers. “We’re not looking to increase or decrease the number of refugees coming to Japan, but to ensure real refugees are assessed quickly,” said Hiroaki Sato, a Ministry of Justice official overseeing the proposals, which do not yet have a timeframe. He added that Japan’s government does not see escaping war as a legitimate reason for claiming asylum, and it has no plans to widen its criteria to include that.
This strict stance, plus Japan’s far geographic distance from the conflict zones churning out the vast majority of the refugees, means that Japan is unlikely to ever become a haven for asylum seekers. The government can withstand the small domestic pressure as well as the greater international pressure to take in more refugees. So Japan will keep footing the bill, as long as it doesn’t have to host.