Refugee hopefuls in Japan have slim chance of staying

Last year Japan accepted 28 asylum seekers while 10,000 made applications.

 
An asylum seeker gets help learning the Japanese language at the Catholic Tokyo International Center. (Photo supplied)
Tokyo: 

John used to work as a customs agent on the border between the Congo and Rwanda, which he said was one of the most dangerous borders in the world.

Wearing a camouflage jacket and jeans, the 42-year-old Congolese Protestant sat scrolling through an iPad as an old woman set tables for lunch at the Catholic Tokyo International Center (CTIC).

Established by Tokyo Archdiocese in 1990, the CTIC serves free meals three times a week for migrants and refugees such as John. The center also provides clothes, consultation and three Japanese language lessons per week.

"I've been in Japan for five months and now I'm learning Japanese," said John, adding that the Japanese government also provides support such as housing. "But the path to get refugee status is long and difficult," he said.

Another Congolese man at the center said there is no security in his country of birth.

"If you happen to criticize the government in power the next day you are taken by five people in military uniform and just simply disappear!" said 20-year-old Chibaka, also a Christian.

Both men's future in Japan is uncertain and the government does not easily grant work permits to refugee applicants.

Nor do many of the refugee applications to stay get approved.

Last year Japan took in just 28 asylum seekers and took in 27 in 2015. Only 11 were approved in 2014 and six the year before. There were 10,000 applications for asylum in 2016, especially by people from Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka. This was an increase of 40 percent from 2015. Japan deported over 5,500 non-nationals last year.

Due to the relaxation in the immigration rules in 2010 — intended to allow asylum seekers permission to work as they waited for their claim to be processed — applications for asylum greatly increased.

But in the end very few have been able to obtain the actual work permit. The result is that people like Milan, a Nepalese who first arrived in Japan six years ago, has not been able to work. There is also no incentive for the 25-year-old to look for a job since the government provides him with assistance and housing but not a working visa.

"Like many Nepalese I arrived here due to the political turmoil in my country," Milan said. "Since then the government and the CTIC have helped me to go on living here. I can legally live in Japan but not legally work, which is the huge contradiction this country has on the policy toward immigration."

The situation is totally different for another asylum seeker, Bima, who arrived from Jakarta two years ago.

"I did find a job, working in the construction field," said Bima who admitted he does not have a work permit and gets paid under the table.

"What I get paid is of course very low compared to the kind of job I do," he added.

In a nationalistic nation such as Japan, opening the country to greater levels of immigration remains a political hot-potato.

Based on figures from last year, there are a million foreign workers in Japan in 2016 — construction workers, farm laborers and factory hands.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has rejected further calls from companies to relax strict controls on needed blue-collar migrants, instead saying he would meet labor demands by increasing the number of women and elderly in the workforce.

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugee applicants pass through the CTIC in a limbo-like existence — living off handouts — unable to work unless they are prepared to do so illegally.

"Mostly we pass time on the internet, watching movies and stuff," said John the former customs agent from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Source: UCAN

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