The number of refugee applicants to Japan is surging this year, increasing the chances of applications hitting a record level last seen in 2017, sources familiar with the matter said Monday.

The current record high is 19,629 applicants, according to government data. The figure topped 11,000 from January through September this year, partly due to Japan's complete lifting of its COVID-19 pandemic border restrictions in April, the sources said.

This year's upswing is also partly due to the occurrence of a series of conflicts across the world, including in Africa, the sources said.

The number of people seeking asylum in Japan increased after 2010, when the government permitted them to work six months after submitting applications for refugee status.

People protest in front of the Diet building in Tokyo in June 2023 against a bill revising an immigration and refugee law to enable authorities to deport individuals who repeatedly apply for asylum status. (Kyodo)

But the figure fell in 2018 after the Immigration Services Agency tightened measures that year to clamp down on people abusing the system, including refusing residency to repeat applicants.

Applicant numbers further decreased to the two and three thousands after the border restrictions were implemented from 2020.

The sources said that since Japan ended its COVID-19 border controls, people have been able to travel from their home countries to seek refuge.

Additionally, many already in Japan decided to apply for refugee status due to conflict or the political situation in their home countries deteriorating, according to the sources.

The surge in the number of people applying for refugee status is affecting the government's ability to provide public assistance to support applicants' daily lives.

There is also concern that the increase will prolong the screening period for applicants, which on average takes around 33 months. The process for those who have appealed their cases takes about four years on average.

Last year, Japan awarded a record 202 people refugee status and had a 2 percent refugee application approval rate.

This year, the country has granted more people refugee status than usual. In July, 114 Afghans who were local employees of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, as well as their family members, were recognized as refugees.

Between 2001 and 2020, Japan approved an average of less than 1 percent of applications, significantly lower than many other countries.