Japan Reacts to War in Ukraine by Establishing a “Quasi Refugee” System

Japan Reacts to War in Ukraine by Establishing a “Quasi Refugee” System
Picture: Hand with Ukrainian flag reaching out. By: Elena Mozhvilo, via Unsplash, 2020.


Malina Wiethaus

Japan and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defense

Japan is known for its strict refugee and asylum laws. In 2019, Japan’s refugee acceptance rate was at an astonishing 0.4 percent; Japan only accepted 44 refugees. In contrast, Germany has an acceptance rate of 25.9 percent in the same year (Nippon, 2021). With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, millions of people are fleeing the region. Many countries, including European countries, offered to waive their visa and asylum requirements for fleeing Ukrainians (Sajjad, 2022). Japan, in April 2022 similarly, introduced its plans to resubmit a bill aimed at creating a “quasi refugee” status (Jiji, 2022). 

This “quasi refugee” status in Japan is based on the UN definition of refugees. According to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees a refugee is a person who has “well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1(A2), 1951). Thus, Japan does not recognize Ukrainians fleeing the war refugees, but rather “evacuees” (Jiji, 2022). 

The new bill aims at protecting evacuees by giving them “quasi refugee” status. In practice, this means that people fleeing the Ukrainian war would receive the same protection that refugees receive. They would be allowed to permanently reside in Japan, as they would be subject to “complementary protection”. While the bill sounds promising, even though multiple concerns have been raised; most address the maximum capabilities of the Japanese immigration authority to respectfully and humanely handle the incoming “quasi refugees” (Jiji, 2022).

Sources and further readings: 

Jiji. (2022, April 7). Japan plans to establish “quasi-refugee” system as war in Ukraine adds 

urgency. The Japan Times. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from 


Nippon. (2021, April 29). Japan Accepts 47 Refugees in 2020 as Applicants Fall by 60% Due 

to Pandemic. Nippon.Com. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from 


Sajjad, T. (2022, March 9). Ukrainian refugees are welcomed with open arms – not so with 

people fleeing other war-torn countries. The Conversation. Retrieved April 8, 2022, 




UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. (1951). Resolution 2198 (XXI) adopted 

by the General Assembly. Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10