Refugee applications in Japan hit record high of 7,586

The number of foreigners who applied for refugee status in Japan hit a record high for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, increasing 52 per cent to 7,586 from 5,000 the year before, the Justice Ministry has announced.

According to preliminary data on refugee applications, 27 people were granted refugee status in 2015. This is an increase of 16 from the previous year, but remains less than 1 per cent of all applications. Immigration authorities considered the majority of applications to have been falsified in an attempt to abuse the refugee recognition system.

The system was revised in 2010 to allow refugee status seekers to start working six months after submitting applications, to prevent them from becoming distressed financially. Authorities believe fraudulent applications assisted by brokers are rampant among Asian applicants because knowledge of the fact that people can work in Japan if they apply for refugee status is spreading.

By nationality, applicants in 2015 included 1,768 people from Nepal, 969 from Indonesia, 926 from Turkey and 808 from Myanmar. In particular, applicants from Indonesia rapidly increased from just 17 the previous year.

Indonesians visiting Japan for short stays of up to 15 days have not required visas since December 2014. There have therefore been repeated cases of people entering Japan for tourism and then applying for refugee status, sources said.

Five applicants were Syrians, whose massive migration to Europe has become a global issue, and three were recognised as refugees. Six Afghans and three people each from Ethiopia and Sri Lanka were also recognised.

Because the examination process is getting bogged down due to the surging number of applications, the Justice Ministry revised the system's operations in September, including conducting simple examinations to swiftly screen those who clearly do not satisfy the requirements for refugee status and giving priority to cases likely to satisfy the requirements.

Following the changes, the number of applications processed last year increased about 23 per cent from the previous year to 3,898.

A ministry official says the quicker process led to an increase in the number of people being granted refugee status.