A few weeks ago I talked about the demographic issues facing Japan and how its Government is responding to a low birth rate and increasingly elderly society. Before that, I discussed how Germany is ameliorating similar demographic woes through immigration, and we’ve seen the footage of hundreds and thousands of migrants/refugees flooding into Germany on the news over the last few months.

Today we see these two stories coalesce as Japan has made it clear that while it will give money to help the crisis in the Middle East, it will not be admitting Syrian refugees. This is despite the fact that an influx of migrants would be one potential solution to a lack of young workers and taxpayers.

As the Guardian reports:

“Japan must improve the living standards of its own people before it can consider accepting Syrian refugees, the prime minister, Shinzo Abe said, as he announced $1.6bn in new assistance for Syrians and Iraqis caught up in conflicts in the Middle East.

Abe’s consistent refusal to consider allowing even a modest number of refugees to relocate to Japan has prompted criticism of the country’s strict policy on asylum: last year, it received a record 5,000 applications but accepted just 11 people.”

There are another 60 Syrians living in Japan who have applied for refugee status: three have been successful, and 30 or so have been given permission to stay for humanitarian reasons. So the numbers of Syrian refugees allowed into the country of 127 million people are miniscule. And that is for some very powerful reasons: politics and culture. As MG Shetfall, a professor of modern Japanese cultural history at Shizuoka University states:

“To publicly broach mass immigration – and the multicultural adjustments in Japanese life that it would necessarily entail – as a means of solving the country’s looming demographic crisis is something that verges on sacrilege…For an important national figure to do so would be an act of political suicide.”

So instead of immigration, or large influxes of refugees, the Abe government is looking elsewhere for a solution to its declining population – we have talked about these measures before. When speaking at the UN general assembly in New York, Abe told reporters that Japan should do many things before accepting immigrants, including “more activities by women, elderly people and we must raise our birth rate”.

Although human rights groups have criticised Japan’s refusal to accept large numbers of refugees, the country insists that it is doing a lot to help the crisis: it is spending money on trying to address the reasons for the refugees in the first place.

“Japan’s latest aid package includes $810m for refugees and internally displaced people fleeing fighting in Syria and Iraq – three times the amount it provided last year – and $750m to fund peace-building efforts in the Middle East and Africa.”

And this is not a one-off amount: last year Japan gave $181.6m to the UN refugee agency, an amount second only to the United States. So Japan is not doing nothing for the refugee/migrant crisis hitting Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but taking in large numbers of immigrants is not included in its relief package. And it seems that taking in large numbers of immigrants is not even a conceivable option for the Japanese Government or its people, even if there is a demographic crisis. In the years ahead, we will be able to compare Germany and Japan and see whether letting in large numbers of immigrants was a better response to a falling population than refusing any migrants at all. The results should be interesting…

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...