Japan rejected 99 per cent of asylum applications last year, accepting only 27 refugees, government figures have shown. 

The country's justice ministry said on Saturday it received a record 7,586 asylum applications in 2015, up 50 percent compared to the year before.

Asylum seekers from Nepal topped the list of those arriving in 2015, with 1,768 submissions.

The accepted applicants included six from Afghanistan, three Syrians, three Ethiopians and three Sri Lankans.

Calls for swift action

Japan, which faces a demographic problem due to an ageing population and declining birthrates, is the world's third largest economy and runs the tightest refugee recognition system among industrialised economies.

In 2014, it granted refugee status to just 11 people, out of 5,000 applicants.

Saori Fujita, an official for the Immigration Bureau of Japan, was quoted by the Japan Times website as saying that 2015's increase was due to a rise in the number of Indonesian applicants.

Fujita said 17 Indonesians applied in 2014, compared to 969 last year.

The Japan Association for Refugees said despite the progress in recent years, more applicants should be accepted.

"We hope that (Japan) will hold discussions with UNHCR and NGOs and swiftly consider measures to certify refugees in line with international standards," it said. 


READ MORE: Concern grows over Japan's ageing population


Japan’s Refugee Recognition Act does not include war refugees in its narrow interpretation of the International Refugee Convention.

On Wednesday, Japan's parliament approved $350m in humanitarian aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, which is to complement a $810m package approved last year, according to Deutsche Welle.

Asked by reporters at the UN General Assembly last September whether Japan would join other countries in accepting Syrian refugees, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe replied that his country needed to boost its own workforce first by empowering more women and older people to work.

"As an issue of demography, I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise [the] birthrate," he said, according to the official translation of his comments.

"There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants." 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies