Last Updated on November 25, 2019
Pope Francis is visiting Japan on a state visit to meet with local Catholics and the Japanese government, and while there called for Japan to join the West and accept more refugees.
According to ANSA, Italy’s not-for-profit news service, Pope Francis called for the Japanese to accept more refugees, at one point referring to them as “zombies,” during a visit to the Cathedral fo Saint Mary in Tokyo, Japan.
“I ask you to spread the arms of friendship and welcome those who come, often after great suffering, to seek refuge in your country,” the Pontiff reportedly said.
Japan is a notoriously difficult nation to immigrate to, using refugee status or otherwise. The Pope noted that Japan’s immigration policies are “so restrictive that the number of those who have obtained refugee status in 2018 is limited to 42 people.”
Pope Francis claimed that refusing to allow refugees into Japan will lead to loneliness, “the greatest poverty.”
According to reports, Pope Francis claimed that “There are young people who do not laugh, do not play, do not know the sense of wonder or surprise.”
The Pope referred to these would-be refugees as “zombies” according to those in attendance, going on to say that “their hearts have stopped beating because of the inability to celebrate life.”
Business Insider, in a lengthy 2017 article detailing the plight of refugees from the Middle East, claimed they were given data indicating Japan should be accepting thousands more refugees each year, and described Japan’s restrictive refugee program:
Japan, a geographically remote country, requires that refugee applications be submitted in person. But many modern-day refugees come from the Middle East and Africa, which pose large logistical and financial hurdles for asylum seekers.
For those who do make it to Japan, they must already have some sort of visa, otherwise they’ll be detained and barred from seeking refugee status. But getting one of those visas is incredibly difficult.
Instead, Business Insider notes, Japan donates heavily to a United Nations agency that attempts to protect would-be refugees in their own nations, and sees resettlement in another country as a less desirable option.
Japan also has a strict definition for persons who may be considered refugees:
But key to Japan’s policy is its focus instead on UNHCR donations — it is the fourth-largest government donor. The country also employs a unique definition of a refugee.
Despite signing onto the 1951 Refugee Convention, Japan only recognizes refugees who are individually targeted and persecuted, regardless of whether they belong to a persecuted minority, or are fleeing war or conflict.
Regardless, times may be changing for Japan, as the country recently reformed its immigration policy to begin to accept highly skilled immigrants.