Chinese nationals accounted for nearly one-quarter of the foreigners granted refugee status in Japan in 2020, a record high number despite a significant drop in overall refugee applications in Japan last year due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
“A total of 47 foreigners were recognised as refugees and permitted to remain in Japan in 2020, of whom 11 were Chinese, according to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. However, none of the 11 are from Hong Kong,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Tuesday.
The number of Chinese nationals granted refugee status in Japan last year “was the highest figure since Japan began accepting refugees in 1982,” according to the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK).
Chinese nationals seeking to obtain refugee status in Japan typically travel to the country first on tourist visas and then apply for refugee status once arrived. Japan’s government often rejects the majority of such applications, however, as the small nation — made up of several islands in the Western Pacific Ocean — maintains stricter requirements for granting refugee status than most countries. Tokyo’s high rate of rejection for refugee applicants, coupled with a sharp decline in the number of Chinese people traveling to Japan in 2020 due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, makes the record-high number of Chinese granted refugee status in Japan last year especially remarkable.
“In 2018, 308 Chinese applied to be recognised as refugees in Japan, with just four applications approved. In 2019, of the 134 applications, zero cases from Chinese nationals were approved,” according to the SCMP. “In 2020, 77 applications filed by Chinese were rejected but 11 people were successful.”
“A spokesman for the [Japanese] Immigration Services Agency declined to comment on the increase in Chinese nationals being granted permission to remain in Japan as refugees or their reasons for leaving China,” the SCMP reported on May 11.
“They [Chinese refugee applicants] tell us that the situation in China has worsened for them, particularly when it comes to restrictions on religious activities,” Daisuke Sugimoto, secretary-general of the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees, told the SCMP on Tuesday.
“Members of the Falun Gong sect, along with Christian groups, were among those that have sought refugee status [in Japan]” in the past, other Japanese refugee support groups told the newspaper.
“I believe the [Japanese] government here is changing its attitude towards Chinese seeking refugee status and altering their policies toward applicants,” Sugimoto told the SCMP.
Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual movement persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a “heretical cult.” The atheist CCP officially tolerates a handful of religions in China: Chinese state Catholicism (independent of the Vatican), non-denominational Protestantism (the so-called “Three-Self Patriotic Church”), Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. CCP authorities create adverse conditions for religious adherents, however, particularly targeting Christians, Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists to prevent them from practicing their faith in daily life.
In addition to religious persecution, recent food shortages across China may have contributed to the rise in Chinese refugees seeking asylum in Japan in 2020 as well. The CCP’s rubber-stamp legislature passed a law in April requiring restaurants to fine patrons if they leave too much food leftover on their plate. The CCP proposed the law in December 2020 shortly after extensive flooding affected 27 of China’s 31 provinces, likely wiping out massive cereal harvests of rice, corn, and wheat.
China has also been suffering from severe pork shortages over the past few years due to recurring epidemics of African swine flu across its pig farms.
“A wave of African swine fever outbreaks this year has wiped out at least 20 percent of the breeding herd in northern China, industry sources and analysts said, exceeding expected losses and raising fears about the potential for further impact in the south,” Reuters reported on April 1.
Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) on May 6 apprehended a Chinese national surnamed Chiang in the Taiwan Strait as he attempted to row from China’s Xiaodeng Island to Taiwan on an inflatable rubber raft.
“Also in Chiang’s possession were 16 dumplings and due to African swine fever concerns, CGA personnel immediately notified the [Taiwan] Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, which dispatched personnel to have them destroyed,” Taiwan News reported.
Taiwan’s CGA apprehended another Chinese national for illegally traveling by boat to Taiwan five days earlier on April 30.
“[T]he 33-year-old man, identified with the surname Zhou, managed to guide a rubber boat with a small outboard motor from Fujian’s Shishi City [in China] all the way to [Taiwan’s] Taichung Harbor. When asked by had come to Taiwan, he said he was ‘yearning for freedom and democracy,'” according to Taiwan News.