In Historic First, Japan Grants LGBTQ Woman Refugee Status

In a first in Japan, a court in Osaka has granted an LGBTQ woman refugee status over fears of prosecution in her homeland for her sexuality.

“I’ve been shaking since I got here”

Uganda outlawed same-sex relationships in 2014 and continues to prosecute “offenders” to this day. Violent attacks against LGBTQ people are commonplace and abetted by authorities.

The plaintiff says authorities arrested, held and tortured for three months because she’s a lesbian. After her release, she fled to Japan, where she filed for asylum in February 2020.

However, the Immigration Services Agency of Japan rejected her appeal, not once, but twice. She appealed the decision in court, telling a judge that she “couldn’t live” in Uganda.

Immigration Services officials defended the bureau’s decision, saying that authorities never officially prosecuted for her sexuality. They also contended that they “couldn’t verify” that the bruises and marks on her body came from a beating perpetrated by Ugandan police.

On March 15th, the court in Osaka ruled in the woman’s favor. According to the court’s decision, “Plaintiff has enough reason to fear that, if she returned to Uganda, she would be arrested, detained, and abused by police for being a lesbian.” The court ordered that immigration grant her refugee status.

The woman told reporters at a press conference she was thrilled by the decision. “I’ve been shaking [since I came here], afraid I’d be sent back.”

Sadly, her troubles aren’t over. Asahi Shimbun says the woman is withholding her name and age over fears of discrimination from Japan’s resident Ugandan community.

“A high hurdle’s been lowered”

The pride and Japanese flags

According to a lawyer, this is the first time a court has awarded an LGBTQ applicant in Japan refugee status based on persecution for their sexuality.

Other countries have admitted refugees based on sexuality and gender discrimination for years. In the United Kingdom, 5% of all refugee claims are from LGBTQ people fleeing discrimination in their home countries. Half of those are approved either by immigration or by court verdict.

Until 2019, Japan did not even tally or publicize the number of claims it processed for refugee status based on sexuality or gender.

Suzuki Eriko, a professor at Kokushikan University specializing in refugee issues, says the plaintiff’s verdict has wide-reaching implications for all refugees to Japan. Typically, Japan’s Immigration Bureau requires concrete proof of arrest or abuse by authorities to award refugee status. This decision says the fear of persecution itself is enough and “lowers the hurdle” for future claims.

“I hope this leads to a substantial change,” Professor Suzuki said.

Immigration Services says it’s considering how to respond to the verdict.

Japan has improved its own record on LGBTQ rights over the past decade. However, it is still the only G7 nation that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

What to read next

87% Say Sexual Diversity in Japan Should Be Honored: Survey


LGBT rights in Uganda. Wikipedia

「帰国すれば暴行受ける恐怖有する」LGBT理由にウガンダ人女性に難民認定 全国初. MBS News

同性愛のウガンダ人「ずっと震えていた」 難民認定命じる判決に喜び. Asahi Shimbun

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