By Thomas Wilson
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan announced on Tuesday changes to its refugee system that activists said will make the country, which accepted less than a dozen asylum seekers last year, increasingly hard to reach for people in need of protection.
Measures including fast-track assessment of applications seen as inadmissible under international refugee law, removal of residence permission for some repeat applicants, and stricter controls on asylum seekers' work permits were set out by the Ministry of Justice, as part of wider proposals for Japan's immigration system.
The ministry will also offer humanitarian protection - but not full refugee status - to people escaping conflict, and establish a system to provide refuge to people at risk from "new forms of persecution," such as gender-based violence.
Activists said the changes, which were widely expected, will add extra hurdles to asylum seekers trying to reach Japan, as well as worsening conditions for many of the estimated 10,000 would-be refugees already in Japan.
"We have more worries than expectations about the changes," said Hiroaki Ishii, executive director of the Japan Association for Refugees. "People may now hesitate to apply because the rules are getting stricter."
Japan accepted only 11 of a record 5,000 asylum seekers in 2014, making it one of the least welcoming countries for refugees in the developed world. The government expects the number of people seeking asylum to exceed 6,000 this year.
(Reporting by Thomas Wilson)