Only 28 refugees were granted asylum in Japan in 2016

Only 28 refugees were granted asylum in Japan in 2016Japan accepted just 28 refugees last year when a record number applied for asylum, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The information was obtained from government document dated for release on Friday, throwing a spotlight on the nation's reluctance to accept foreigners.

In 2016, 10,901 people sought asylum in Japan, up 44 percent from a year earlier, when the country accepted 27.

Of the accepted refugees, seven were from Afghanistan, four from Ethiopia and three from Eritrea. It was not clear whether any Syrians had applied for, or won asylum.

Immigration is a controversial subject in Japan, where many pride themselves on cultural and ethnic homogeneity, even as the population ages and its workforce shrinks. Although a major donor to international aid organizations, Japan has been reluctant to relax asylum policies or allow in migrant blue-collar workers.

Human Rights Watch last month called Japan's record on asylum seekers "abysmal," urging it to accept more and strengthen protection for migrant workers.

Japan's low acceptance of refugees is in contrast to European countries, which last year saw hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers arrive from war- and poverty-stricken countries such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea.

Between January and September last year, Japan was the fourth largest donor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, contributing $165 billion.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September also pledged $2.8 billion to help tackle the global refugee crisis over three years from 2016. Japan will also accept up to 150 Syrian students, with their families, under a scholarship program.

Still, refugee advocates and human rights organizations have criticized Japan's reluctance to accept more refugees.

Asylum seekers from Indonesia topped the list of those arriving in Japan last year, followed by people from Nepal, the Philippines and Turkey.

Ninety-seven people, though not recognized as refugees, were granted residency for humanitarian reasons.
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