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Amnesty International Condemns Japan’s Refugee Policy

March 17, 1993

TOKYO (AP) _ A human rights group said today the government routinely tramples on the rights of asylum seekers threatened with persecution at home.

David Petrasek of Amnesty International said Japan has made a ″systematic attempt to keep asylum seekers at arm’s length″ by treating them ″as if they were criminals.″

The issue is a sensitive one for largely homogeneous Japan, which has given refugee status to only 200 out of 983 applicants since 1981, when it joined the United Nations refugee convention.

A report issued today by Amnesty International, based in London, says those figures reflect a variety of barriers, such as the requirement that asylum seekers file an application within 60 days of their arrival.

″It takes a tough decision to cut off ties with your mother country,″ said Kazuo Ito, a refugee lawyer. ″I have real doubts whether 60 days is enough.″

Justice Ministry officials said late applicants are rejected regardless of their claims.

Kyoji Kojima, director of the ministry’s refugee recognition department, said that if someone fails to seek asylum quickly, ″that speaks for itself about the person’s lack of qualification as a refugee.″

Kojima, in a written response to the Amnesty International report, said it was based on inaccuracies and therefore was groundless. He denied the government tries to intimidate refugees while questioning them.

Tokio Sugita, a lawyer for Bangladeshi human rights activist Apu Sarwar, said government questioners told his client, ″You don’t belong in Japan because we didn’t invite you.″

The report criticized Japan’s treatment of Chinese pro-democracy activists, citing the case of Zhao Nan, a former labor camp prisoner whose application for asylum was denied.

Zhao, whose case is now in the courts, said he believed the government turned him down for political reasons, since Japan has sought closer ties with the Communist government in Beijing.

Kojima denied that. ″It goes without saying that we do not consider foreign policy when making immigration decisions,″ he said.

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