Japan has granted refugee status to 133 people who have fled Afghanistan in the year since the Taliban returned to power last August, Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi said Friday.
The number includes 98 people granted the status this month who worked at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul and their families, he said in a press conference. The 133 approvals by the Japanese government, which has a stringent refugee screening policy, far exceed the all-time high of 74 people granted asylum in 2021.
Around 800 people have fled Afghanistan for Japan as former Afghan government officials and those seen as collaborators feared persecution. In August 2021, the Taliban toppled the government and returned to power after the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from the country.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that at least 180,000 people have fled Afghanistan in the past year and a half.
Hanashi said that the refugees are "approved appropriately based on the definition for approval provided by the Refugee Convention. We hope to continue offering secure protection to those truly in need of asylum."
Government sources have said the 98 people with connections to the embassy were approved for the status in a decision dated Aug. 19 because their "political views" put them at risk of persecution.
But a lawyer working to support refugees has pointed out that other Afghans are applying for refugee status and that Japan's reluctant approach to the issue is fundamentally unchanged. The lawyer also called for wider acceptance of people of other nationalities fleeing persecution.
The Immigration Services Agency of Japan has allowed evacuating Afghans to stay for one year under certain conditions by granting "designated activities" visas enabling them to work.
Refugees in Japan are typically granted a five-year period of stay and eligibility to apply for permanent residency if they meet certain requirements.