Only Sri Lankan visitors are required to answer such invasive questions, sources of an organization that helps refugees told The Asahi Shimbun.
The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau’s Narita Airport District Immigration Office asks Sri Lankans who are going through immigration to answer several questions on the bureau’s confirmation report.
They include asking if there are any circumstances about returning to their home country that could put them in danger or deprive them of their property.
Other questions on the report form in Sinhalese and Tamil, which are the official languages of Sri Lanka, include whether they intend to return to Sri Lanka within their visa period or whether they will seek asylum in Japan.
The form includes the warning that if they falsely report, they may be subject to punishment.
“The measure is for the purpose of reducing the number of refugee applications and does not contribute to the protection of refugees,” said officials of the NPO that helps asylum seekers. “It is discrimination to target people of a certain nationality.”
The Japanese immigration bureau, which admitted that asking such questions is unusual, said that they apply only to Sri Lankan nationals. It started the measure from November 2018.
The main reason is that the number of refugee protection applications submitted by Sri Lankans skyrocketed from 423 in the first half of 2018 to 1,128 in the latter half of the year.
“Most of the applications are thought to have been submitted mistakenly or considered an abuse of the protection system,” a bureau official said.
The measure is for the purpose of “conducting strict inspections and leading to a reduction in the number of such applications,” according to the official.
The Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees issued a statement in response to the questioning of Sri Lankan nationals in June.
“The measure is an unreasonable system because the act of seeking asylum upon entering Japan itself can lead to them being put at a disadvantage.”
Sri Lanka is politically unstable following a series of deadly coordinated terrorist attacks on hotels and churches in April.
Atsushi Kondo, a professor of justice studies at Meijo University, Japan, said, “There might be people who are filing false reports at the airport due to fear of not being allowed to enter Japan.”
The immigration official disagreed.
“It is hard to assume such a situation because whether they can gain any advantage through false reporting is not known,” the official said. “We intend to give temporary permission to enter to those who will be submitting an application for asylum.”