Japan’s “Inadequate Support for Refugees” Revealed by the War in Ukraine | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Japan’s “Inadequate Support for Refugees” Revealed by the War in Ukraine

Interview with Yosuke Suzuki, Member of the House of Representatives, Rikken, who submitted a new residence status bill

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Now that the word has spread worldwide that coming to Japan is a risk…

Twenty (20) displaced Ukrainian refugees arrived in Japan on April 5 on a government plane with Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. Foreign Minister Hayashi had visited Poland as a special envoy of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, working to accommodate the refugees from Ukraine.

However, as reported in FRIDAY Digital dated March 14, it has only been decided that the Ukrainians who entered Japan as “displaced persons” would first be issued a “90-day temporary visa” and then be granted the status of residence classified as “specified activities” for 12 months. Foreign Minister Hayashi says that “we will provide support after their entry,” including temporary accommodation, living expenses, and Japanese language education, but “after that” is yet to be seen.

Therefore, on March 29, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) submitted a bill to create a new status of residence, “war and other evacuees,” and to accept evacuees as soon and as smoothly as possible. What in the world is this all about? Will it be operational? We interviewed the submitter, Yosuke Suzuki, a member of the House of Representatives.

On April 5, 20 evacuees arrived at Haneda Airport with Foreign Minister Hayashi, who was visiting Poland to promote acceptance of evacuees from Ukraine (Photo: Afro)

120 Japanese could not leave Ukraine even after the evacuation advisory was announced.

–What is the main purpose of this bill in the first place?

Let me begin by going back to the question I asked the Justice Committee on March 1. There were 300 Japanese in Ukraine at the time of the invasion. Some of them left the country in response to the Foreign Ministry’s evacuation order, but the number reached 120 and remained that way for many days. My first awareness of the problem is why can’t more than 120 people leave.


So I reached out to Japanese people in Ukraine via Instagram and YouTube and asked, ‘Do you have any problems?’ I asked, “One Japanese man’s wife is Ukrainian, and he has a stepdaughter, and he and his wife have a child together. However, he cannot bring his wife and two(2) children because he has not submitted his marriage documents in Japan. He said, “I can’t leave Ukraine without my wife and children.”

Another person has a Ukrainian wife, and although he has registered his marriage in Japan, when he told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “I want to bring my wife’s father and mother back with me,” he was advised that he can’t do that, so he gave up. There was a government policy of not accepting new short-stay visas with a daily entry limit of 5,000 foreigners as part of the anti-Corona waterfront operation. They were only allowed to bring their spouses and children. Initially, the government didn’t have a clear picture of the current situation. 


When I mentioned at the Justice Committee that this was preventing Japanese nationals from coming back to Japan, Minister of Justice Sadahisa Furukawa raised his hand on the spot and said, “I will take care of it.” The next day, Prime Minister Kishida announced that he would fully accept the visa.

–That response was something to be commended. Is that where the need for a new residence permit came from?

The government says it will issue a 90-day short-stay visa and a “specified activities” permit, which allows the holder to work, go to school and engage in other specific activities as determined by the Minister of Justice. 


However, there are two problems. I don’t see what is going to happen next. The other major problem is “discretionary administration. The current refugee status is the ultimate discretionary administration. The Ministry of Justice certifies according to its criteria, and the certification rate is only 0,4%. Therefore, unless the discretionary administration becomes as objective as possible, we believe that everyone will feel insecure in their daily lives even if they come to Japan. 


That is why we have submitted this law. This law bridges the gap between “refugee status” and “specified activities”. This visa will allow them to work, receive national health insurance, and pay taxes, making their status similar to that of permanent residents. In addition, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) will have a certain amount of discretion in determining whether or not to grant a visa, based on the criteria set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The most significant point is that we can keep our distance.


–Will the Ministry of Justice no longer certify them?

The Ministry of Justice will be responsible for certification. But the criteria will be according to UNHCR standards rather than at the discretion of the Minister of Justice. Then all wives and step-children of Ukrainians, as I mentioned earlier, will be able to come to Japan together, and they will be able to work and receive medical care. 

From now on, it is important for each of us to imagine a “Japan that accepts refugees” (Photo: Afro)

Prime Minister Kishida said he would accept anyone, but in reality…

–What if a couple is Ukrainian?

The policy now is that we will accept that as well. Prime Minister Kishida initially said that he would accommodate anyone. But from what is happening, it is difficult to obtain a visa without a guarantor in Japan. I would like to examine this issue more carefully in the future. That is the role of the opposition parties.

-What is noteworthy about this bill is that it would not only be limited to those fleeing Ukraine, but will apply to those fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and other countries in conflict.

The very simple question is, ‘Why only Ukrainians?’ That’s what I’m saying.”

–If this is the case, there is a possibility that those who are not allowed to work due to provisional release and are unable to make a living will be able to work. However, the DPJ is an opposition party, so the bill will not pass as is, right?  

Once the bill is submitted to the Diet, it will be referred to the Legal Affairs Committee. If the bill will not be considered by the board of directors of the Legal Affairs Committee, and if there is time after the discussion of the bill submitted by the Cabinet, it may be reviewed, but in most cases, it will not be included in the deliberation process. Even if it is not discussed, we hope that our suggestions will be absorbed into the government’s proposal.

–Does that mean that the ruling party will also come up with a similar bill and it will be tied up?

“I think it’s obvious that the government intends to make the status of residence ‘specified activity’ so that it can be adjusted at any time, don’t you?” Rather, we have proposed a bill that says, ‘Let’s give them proper identity protection,’ so I think there could be a case for discussion now when the trend picks up, or for the government to change the name of the bill and come up with a new one.”

-Is it your feeling that the government might change the current rigid refugee administration since you have indicated the direction it should take?

I believe that this time, external pressure has opened a hole for the government. So we need to take this opportunity to widen the hole! Experts said only 0.4% of refugees had been approved for now, because social confusion would arise if Japan were to accept refugees when it was not ready to accept them at all. Each municipality has announced that it will accept the refugees. I would like to accumulate the fact that people are working, paying taxes, and living in Japan who are accepted where they are accepted. 


The world has become aware of the risks involved in coming to Japan,” says Yosuke Suzuki, a member of the House of Representatives, “and the best people, especially those who want to work in Japan, will not come here.

Ukrainians have difficulty applying for refugee status…why?

–Japan has never been prepared to accept refugees. So, in addition to this bill, the DPJ is also submitting a new “Law Concerning the Protection of Refugees, etc.” – is this something you intend to do to prepare for such a situation?

Yes. The “Law Concerning the Protection of Refugees” has already been completed, but this is a new law which states that refugee status will not be determined by the Ministry of Justice, but by an independent body called the Committee for the Protection of Refugees, which will be in charge of refugee status recognition. This is part of immigration reform.

For example, it is very difficult for Ukrainians to apply for refugee status in Japan. The reason is that it is difficult to apply for refugee status unless you have been persecuted by the “Ukrainian government. How can you prove that? You have to prove that you were actually pressured by the government to do something about your writings, etc. How can a refugee do that?

–What is that? I don’t understand.

I want to help people fleeing the war now. Isn’t it strange that people from Ukraine can’t apply for refugee status? But on the issue of people displaced from Ukraine, and this is something I’ve been advocating for a long time, GDP per person per year. is $3,721, and annual income is $40. Can a parent and three children buy a plane ticket that costs about ¥10,000? I mean, you can’t come, can you?

This time, they will come on a government chartered plane, and the Nippon Foundation will provide 50. There is also talk of offering ¥100 million to bring them in. We are working on it little by little, but if we decide to accept them, we have to think about that as well.”

–I think it is important for us to envision a “Japan that accepts refugees” from now on.

Yes, it is. To begin with, with the death of Wishma Sandamali and the way Carlos Ghosn turned out, whether it was good or bad, it has become widely known around the world that coming to Japan is a risk, and that people who want to work in Japan, especially talented people, are not likely to come. So I would like to share with everyone the awareness that if we don’t change things little by little, starting with the things that can be changed, we will be in trouble.

More than 4 million refugees have already fled Ukraine to other countries. The acceptance of refugees in Japan will not stop with the 20 people who came to Japan on a chartered plane. Now is the time for politics to seriously build a Japan that can live together with refugees, and it is also the time for us to think about it in a realistic way.

  • Interview and text Shizuoka Wada

    Sumo & music writer. She has been banging into the political world from a commoner's point of view: "The hourly wage is always the minimum wage, is this my fault? I asked a member of the National Assembly." and "Election campaigning, from distributing leaflets to doing it. Kagawa 1st Constituency" (both published by Left and Right) became a topic of conversation. Her recent interest is women's participation in politics, and she is currently conducting research on the topic.

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