Accepted paper:

State control and refugees' lives: anthropology of refugees in Japan


Tadayuki Kubo

Paper short abstract:

Although the government accepts resettled refugees in Japan, they are stateless and need a settlement visa for being employed. This study discusses the living conditions of refugees, their invisibility, and the role of anthropological knowledge to widen perspectives about refugees.

Paper long abstract:

The Japanese government has implemented the Refugee Resettlement Programme since 2010 as a five-year pilot project. This initiative was expected to salvage Japan's negative reputation as an inhospitable country for refugees. However, it was not successful. Japan has been accepting foreigners in an exclusive manner, especially in terms of legal status. Although resettled refugees have been accepted by the government, they are stateless. The law requires these refugees to update their settlement visa every three years. Refugees must submit a certificate of employment to extend their visa. As such, Japan accepts refugees only as part of its work force. Cheap refugee laborers tend to be "invisible" workers. They are also invisible for researchers, as the government does not provide any information, even details on the cultural orientation of refugees, in the name of protecting their privacy. Stakeholders, such as aid workers and journalists, condemn this policy and insist on determining the best way to accept refugees in local places where they settle. Although stakeholders are very conscious of realizing a multicultural society, Japanese society remains immature. The general understanding of "foreign culture" entails the 3 Fs of food, festivals, and fashion. Contextual knowledge of the where and how refugees lived in their places of origin is limited. The state regards refugees as cheap labor, whereas the general public sees refugees as unfamiliar, sometimes illegal, aliens. In this context, anthropological knowledge based on fieldwork is expected to help form an alternative model that deviates from the current bureaucratic approach toward multicultural society.

panel P087
Situating statelessness: anthropological perspectives (WCAA/Commission on Theretical Anthropology panel)