Lawmakers Suggest a Loosening of Japan’s Borders

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As the refugee crisis rages on, most developed countries are facing pressure to open their borders. However, the incentive for such welcoming policies is far more practical for Japan.

That’s because the Asian nation is facing another demographic crisis – an aging population that could leave Japan with 8 million fewer workers by 2030. Experts suggest the best way to bridge that gulf would be to admit more foreigners, who are eager to flee conflict-rife regions in the Middle East and live in a safe developed country. However, such loosening of admittance would be a abrupt shift from the government’s ongoing stance. Last year, for instance, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused to relax Japan’s rigid refugee policy, despite the raging conflicts in Syria and other war torn areas, leading to an admittance of a mere 11 refugees out of a record 5000 applicants.

According to a recent Guardian article, Shigeru Ishiba, a politician in Abe’s LDP party, has spoken out against that inflexible position. The PM recently tasked Ishiba with reinvigorating regional economies, and his suggestion that the solution lies with immigration comes on the heels of the UN refugee agency’s recent imploring for Japan help more with the ongoing crisis.

Ishiba’s sentiment echoes that of Taro Kono, the Minister for Administrative Reform, who pointed out in October that an influx of immigrants could help the PM successfully reach his pledged GDP increase from today’s ¥491 trillion to ¥600 trillion yen ($5 trillion) by 2020. However, Kono’s statements were quickly rebuked by chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, who said, “Foreign countries have undergone difficult experiences. We should be careful about accepting immigrants.”

Ishiba’s recent comments serve as an assured rebuttal to Suga’s, and to Japan’s overall immigration policy. He cited the successful integration of Japanese migrants in South America a century ago as proof of the positive potential that comes with more open borders. He added: “Given that Japan’s population is in decline, the government should promote policies that accept immigrants into Japan. It is wrong thinking that foreigners must not come to Japan.”

The issue was also hotly debated in September, when the photo of a drowned Syrian child by the name of Alan Kurdi first brought the crisis to the forefront of Western media. At the time, Japanese officials touted the $200 million in aid that they had pledged to Syria. But an editorial in left-leaning Japanese newspaper the Mainichi Shimbun said such efforts were meager, before imploring the government to do more by saying: “There are things Japan can do Japan is called ‘a country with a closed-door for refugees.’ We should change this closed nature and consider accepting refugees from conflict zones proactively … Figuring out how to tackle this humanitarian crisis is not an issue only for Europe.”

–Kyle Mullin

Image of Japanese Parliament Building by night: nAok0/Flickr, used under CC

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