Japan Accepts Record-High 300 Refugees in 2023, Still a Global Low

Japan Accepts Record-High 300 Refugees in 2023, Still a Global Low

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Picture: chepilev / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
While it's still low compared to other countries, Japan accepted more refugee applicants last year than ever.

Japan’s 2023 refugee statistics, which are globally low, came out last week. While still low, they represent a significant uptick in acceptance of refugees compared to previous years. Here’s who applied and gained status.

2023 Japan refugee stats

Japan accepted more refugees in 2023 than it ever has. More than 300 asylum seekers obtained refugee status, 2 qualified as “persons subject to supplementary protection,” and more than 1,000 became residents from “humanitarian consideration,”  Japan’s Immigration Services Agency (ISA) announced on March 26th.

ISA reviewed more than 13,000 applications for refugee status and approved 303, or 2.1%. Around 12% of applicants were reattempting to gain status.  

Applications increased by approximately 226% from last year, while requests for ISA to reevaluate denied applications increased by about 18%. 52 nationalities filed for reevaluation, notably Myanmarese, Turkish, Bangladeshi, Cambodian, and Sri Lankan. ISA put a mere 1.7% under “supplementary protection” but did not grant them refugee status.

87 nationalities, primarily Sri Lankan, Turkish, Pakistani, Indian, and Cambodian, applied for refugee status. These five nationalities combined made up 66% of refugee applicants. Among the top five countries producing the most refugees according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Afghanistan saw greater immigration to Japan in 2023. Over 250 Afghans applying for refugee status.

Despite the rise, Japan still accepts a lower number of refugees than most other developed countries. According to data from the United Nations Commissions on Human Rights, in 2021, France accepted 17.5% of all refugees who applied, while on the high side, Canada accepted 62.1%, and the UK accepted 63.4%. In that same year, Japan only accepted 0.7% of applicants.


Global upheaval drives refugee seekers

About 94% of refugee-status applicants were legally in Japan at the time of applying. The most common group of applicants were staying in Japan on a tourist visa. The next largest group was Technical Intern Trainees, or Ginō-Jisshūsei (技能実習生) in Japanese.

There was a 19% increase in applications from illegal stayers, of which Turkish applicants represented the largest number.  

6 nationalities, the majority Ukrainian, applied for recognition as “persons subject to supplementary protection,” most of whom were legally in Japan. In this category, woman comprised about 67% of all applicants.

ISA notes that several conflicts have produced refugees to whom Japan has offered asylum. These include the 2021 Myanmar coup d’détat, the 2021 Taliban offensive, the 2011 Syrian civil war, the ongoing Sudan war, and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. It does not mention the persecution of Kurds in its 2023 report despite there being a bulk of Turkish nationals fleeing to Japan seeking asylum for this exact reason.

Following the report’s release, Justice Minister Ryūji Koizumi (小泉龍司) told reporters, “[We] want to work hard to protect those in front of us with improved accuracy, speed, and consistency.”

Applicants’ daily allowance

First-time applicants under ISA’s review for refugee status can apply for financial aid from the Asia Welfare Education Foundation or Aji Fukushi Kyōiku Zaidan (アジア福祉教育財団). According to the Japan Association for Refugees, the aid plan is 4 months long versus the average 3 years and 11 months it takes for applicants to receive results.

For living expenses, applicants over age 12 get a daily allowance of ¥1,600, and those younger receive ¥1,200.

For paying rent in single-person households, the foundation provides up to ¥60,000. It also supports medical bills.

This financial aid, commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, is only two-thirds of Tokyo’s social welfare system that upholds Japan’s constitutional “right to live,” or seizonken (生存権). Emergency housing is available, although many remain homeless.

Remember June 15th 2024

However, a hard deadline looms for some applicants. Starting June 15th this year, over 150 children and their families will be at risk of forced deportation from Japan as the revised immigration laws go into effect.

The new laws state that Japan-born schoolchildren whose parents entered the country legally can obtain residency that extends to family members. Foreign-born children are exempt from the grant.

Asylum seekers who are currently awaiting their 3rd+ application results will be subject to ISA’s deportation orders. Before drafting the June 15th revisions, ISA did not have the power to deport those with a pending application.

Japanese media has led with headlines emphasizing the country’s biggest acceptance of refugees in 2023. Will the narrative change on June 15th?


去年の難民認定303人 統計開始以降最多に出入国在留管理庁. NHK

令和5年における難民認定者数等について. 出入国在留管理庁

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