Japan on Wednesday granted a Ugandan woman refugee status after a court ordered the state to do so on the grounds she faced a risk of persecution in her country for being gay.

The woman in her 30s came to Japan in 2020 and applied for refugee status, claiming that police in Uganda assaulted her due to her sexuality. But the application was rejected, resulting in the issuance of a deportation order.

After filing a lawsuit with the Osaka District Court seeking revocation of the order, in March the court ordered she be recognized as a refugee. It ruled the deportation order was illegal as she could be criminally punished under Ugandan law if she returned home, and the state did not appeal.

An Ugandan woman shows the certificate she received after Japan granted her refugee status on April 19, 2023, in Osaka. (Kyodo)

After receiving a certificate recognizing her as a refugee from the Osaka regional immigration bureau, the woman said she feels great and wants to thank all those who supported her.

She is eligible to stay as a refugee in Japan for five years, one of her supporters said, adding she was congratulated by an immigration bureau official when receiving the certificate.

The ruling was finalized after Japan in March unveiled for the first time its guidelines on refugee recognition to improve transparency in response to criticism that it accepts very few refugees compared to other countries.

Under the guidelines, the Immigration Services Agency of Japan cited the possibility of granting refugee status if applicants are deemed at risk of persecution in their home countries for their gender, or for identifying as a sexual minority.

The government has also submitted to the ongoing Diet session proposed revisions to Japan's immigration law that include controversial measures to allow for the deportation of individuals who have repeatedly applied for refugee status.

Deliberations on the bill may face challenges amid criticism from opposition parties and controversy over the death in 2021 of a 33-year-old Sri Lankan woman detained in an immigration facility.

Regarding the bill, the Ugandan woman said anyone needs protection when facing problems in their home country.

Japan gave refugee status to 202 people in 2022, the highest number since it began granting asylum in 1982. But the number is tiny in comparison to European countries, where refugees are taken in by their tens of thousands annually, and the United States which recently raised its yearly cap to 125,000.

Related coverage:

Cabinet approves proposals for Japan immigration law changes