A Japanese court has ordered the government to grant refugee status to a Sri Lankan man who entered Japan 12 years ago after fleeing his country's civil war.
On Thursday, the Tokyo District Court accepted the request for refugee status by the 58-year-old man, who is a minority Tamil.
After arriving in Japan in 2006, he applied to the Justice Ministry for refugee status. He filed a suit when his application was rejected.
The man won the suit in 2011. The ministry did not appeal the ruling, but rejected his application again. He filed a second lawsuit in 2015.
The ministry argued that the situation in Sri Lanka has improved since the civil war ended.
In Thursday's ruling, Presiding Judge Chieko Shimizu noted that even after the civil war, minority Tamils face the risk of detention and torture, if they are suspected of ties to insurgents.
She said the end of the war does not mean the Tamil plaintiff ceases to be a refugee under the UN refugee convention. She revoked the government's decision and ordered it to recognize him as a refugee. Such an order is unusual.
The plaintiff says he is pleased with the ruling, and he wants to contribute to Japanese society.
His lawyer, Shogo Watanabe, noted that refugees do not get the help they need, and he urged immigration officials to handle refugee issues while keeping this in mind.
The Justice Ministry said it will respond to the ruling appropriately after studying it closely.
The number of foreign nationals applying for refugee status has been soaring in Japan.
According to the Justice Ministry, more than 19,600 people filed applications in 2017. The figure increased by 80 percent from the previous year and is the largest ever.
The applicants are from 82 countries. The top 5 nations with the most applicants, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, account for about 70 percent of the total.
But only 20 people were granted refugee status in 2017. Forty-five were allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds even though they were not recognized as refugees.
Ministry officials say an increasing number of people are filing applications with the apparent intention to work in Japan. They say these applicants clearly do not meet the requirements under the UN refugee convention.
Lawyers for those seeking recognition emphasize that immigration officials fail to correctly recognize refugees in the first place, although they often talk of illegal immigrants seeking refugee status.