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News Navigator: How does Japan's definition of 'evacuees' apply to Ukrainians?

Evacuees from Ukraine who have arrived in Japan are seen at Haneda Airport in April 2022. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Ukrainian people who have evacuated to Japan due to the Russian invasion.

    Question: How does Japan define the "evacuees" from Ukraine?

    Answer: There is no clear definition. The Japanese government is accepting Ukrainian people who want to evacuate to Japan on humanitarian grounds in light of the difficult situation. Even Ukrainians who do not have any relatives in Japan are allowed entry and are granted a status of residence that allows them to work for one year if they wish.

    The central government is also taking special measures such as providing support to connect the evacuees with their local governments and companies which offer support.

    Q: How are they different from general "refugees" that we sometimes hear about?

    A: Whether or not a person is a refugee is determined based on the "Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees," which specifies international rules for protecting the human rights of those who have been displaced from their home countries due to political turmoil.

    Under the convention, the term refugees refers to people who have fled to other countries because they may be persecuted for any of five reasons including race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

    Q: Don't the people from Ukraine fit into these categories?

    A: Japan has been accepting refugees since 1982 under the Refugee Convention. However, the screening process leading to the recognition of refugee status takes a certain amount of time, and the country is said to have a strict interpretation of the convention. The government had only certified 915 refugees in total as of 2021. There is a view that the Ukrainian evacuees can't be certified as refugees simply because "they left their home country to escape a war."

    Q: Shouldn't there be a mechanism to help such people even if they aren't certified as refugees?

    A: The Japanese government is considering establishing a system to protect people who may die in wars and conflicts, even if they are not immediately considered refugees under the Refugee Convention, in the same manner as refugees. If realized, the scope of people who can apply for relief is expected to expand. European countries and other nations have apparently adopted similar systems.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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