Japanese Civil Society Organizations Aid Refugees In Establishing Businesses, Despite Opposition From The Government

Japan is well-known for its skepticism and attitude towards immigration. While the doors have been slowly opened for professionals but the Japanese government has been reluctant to take in low-skilled workers from abroad (except for temporary work permits – and has been extremely unwelcome to refugees.

Even 2015’s so-called refugee crisis gelorawagyu.com didn’t change Japan’s closed-door policy. While countries like those in the United States, Canada and Venezuela have taken on many thousands of asylum applicants, Japan has announced it will accept only 150 Syrian “students” and their families within five years. Although this is a significant move for Japan however, the number of refugees is way too low.

Discordant Attitudes

The gap between Japan’s passive approach towards refugees and ensuring adequate support and its active commitment to refugees outside of its borders is frequently criticized by NGO and journalists, media as well as researchers..

Japan is among the biggest contributors of funds to the UN refugee agency and the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a series of initiatives which included the grant of US$2.8 billion for refugees and host communities at the Leaders’ Summit in New York in September 2016. Despite this huge financial commitment, Japan’s refugee acceptance rate is incredibly low (less than 1percent of all application numbers in).

In the case of 3,898 asylum applications accepted in Japan in the year 2000 just 27 were accepted as refugees. This number included asylum seekers who challenged the decision of the government to not admit their claims during prior years. Add in the 79 that were given special rights to remain in Japan due to the basis of humanitarian reasons the total is just a little over 100.

Refugees can work with no restrictions. But asylum seekers can’t work if they have sought asylum within Japan legally.

Asylum seekers who apply following the expiration of their visas are expired are sent to an immigration detention center. A few may be released in a provisional manner or permitted to stay in the outside of the centre. However, they remain ineligible be employed.

Civil Society Comes In

Given the institution-related restrictions facing asylum applicants, Japanese civil society and companies are progressively taking steps to help refugees gain acceptance, and assist those who are seeking to establish their own businesses.

The nonprofit organization in Tokyo, Entrepreneurship Support Program for Refugee Empowerment (ESPRE) is the only public-interest foundation that government has granted permission to micro-finance refugees. Through a partnership in collaboration with Japan Association for Refugees and Social Venture Partners Tokyo, ESPRE loans up to one million yen (about $8800 USD) to refugees and offers additional assistance in the form of advice on business.

The kinds of ventures ESPRE has funded include food service to trading enterprises. For example the project of one Burmese ex-university lecturer who applied for asylum Japan and stayed in Japan for more than 20 years, started an Myanmar establishment located in Tokyo with the support of ESPRE in 2012.

And Vietnamese refugee Minami Masakazu emigrated from his home at the age of a teenager and was also helped to establish a renowned Vietnamese eatery within the capital city. ESPRE has also assisted to assist a Pakistani businessman who owns an enterprise that trades used Japanese automobiles. The company started with Mozambican buyers. Mozambican markets and has since been expanded into other markets.

Companies also seem to appreciate the idea of helping refugees with the entrepreneurship. Uber Japan, for instance began an initiative in 2014 asking their customers to make donations the charity ESPRE as well as an unnamed tax accountant is a pro bono service for refugees, according to the director of ESPRE, Masaru Yoshiyama.

Many Benefits

The academics and professionals working on behalf of refugees have highlighted the positive impacts of entrepreneurship for the host society and the refugees.

In the beginning it helps refugees. It’s not difficult for refugees to feel helpless and less confident in the event that they are dependent on government aid. They can restore their independence and confidence by establishing an enterprise, making money and participating in the host community as a volunteer.

Organizations such as ESPRE do not only assist them by funding projects, as well as reducing the barrier to speaking, that is why Japan is known for. To help with this, ESPRE holds English-language orientation sessions in which business experts and accountants provide guidance on the best ways to manage a company within the country.

It is also widely accepted that refugees can help boost their local economies by providing employment opportunities. For instance, the Myanmar restaurateur in Tokyo is one example. The owner of a restaurant in Tokyo employs students and refugees. Although this hasn’t yet been seen in Japan the other countries, refugees who own businesses frequently employ locals..

In addition, refugees’ involvement in self-generating economic activities could alter the perception of the public of them as considered to be a ” societal burden”. This reduces the negative perception of the public towards refugees.

Remaining Challenges

However, despite these advantages there are still a few obstacles remain in the way of facilitating refugee-led entrepreneurship in Japan.

The first issue is the lack of resources. In contrast to countries where the amount of refugees is high and the infrastructure for supporting refugees (or minority entrepreneurs in general) has been put in place up, initiatives in Japan are still in their early stages, and the availability of personnel and financial capacity are not as strong.

ESPRE Director Yoshiyama has said to me this had impeded the establishment of a better-organized aid process that ranges from the evaluation of business plans to providing support for projects that have been implemented.

Inflexibility in the institution is another issue. Asylum seekers are only allowed to operate under strict guidelines. The rules are formulated in an assumption that asylum seekers are an employee instead of being an employer or self-employed. This can lead to confusion and adds to their administrative burden, as officials are not able to give permission to start the business of their choice.

The biggest issue that is a major issue in Japan particularly is the lack of awareness for refugees as well as undocumented migrants. While the recent refugee crisis has dramatically increased public awareness however, the issue is thought of in Japan as something that’s happening in the world. This doesn’t do much to make things easier for refugees who are entrepreneurs.

The last thing to mention is that it is important to remember that refugee entrepreneurship isn’t an all-purpose solution. A lot of refugees are minors or vulnerable individuals, and may not be able in a business. Entrepreneurship for refugees should be seen as an ideal – option for helping refugees become autonomous and fully integrated into the country they are staying in.