Orrick Assists Ethiopian Pro Bono Client in Successful Application for Refugee Status in Japan



An Orrick pro bono client of Ethiopian citizenship was officially recognized as a refugee by Japan’s Ministry of Justice under the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act.

By international standards, the number of people recognized as refugees by the Japanese government is extremely low: in 2016, only 28 out of 10,901 applications were successful.  Moreover, very few cases have been reported of a successful application in Japan by an Ethiopian citizen.  Despite reports of a rapid increase in applications for refugee recognition in recent years, commentators have observed that the Ministry of Justice has declined the applications of many apparently qualified applicants. 

Applicants for recognition as refugees often find it difficult to navigate Japan’s application procedures without professional support.  For example, experts note that applicants bear much of the burden to prove that they are refugees, a process that requires the applicant to prepare materials regarding the state of human rights in their country of origin and prepare or gather statements and/or supporting opinions describing the applicant’s personal experience of persecution.  Through its pro bono activities, Orrick works with the nonprofit organization Japan Association for Refugees (JAR) to provide legal and other assistance to applicants who would not otherwise have the resources to secure professional support.

With JAR’s assistance, the Ethiopian citizen in this case applied for recognition as a refugee while visiting Japan to avoid persecution in Ethiopia.  Orrick and the legal department of Goldman Sachs Japan Securities Co., Ltd. became involved soon after the initial application and supported the applicant in the preparation and submission of supporting materials, a legal opinion, and related matters.

From Orrick’s Tokyo office, Masao Fujino and Kei Kato engaged in activities such as submitting opinions on behalf of the applicant, with support from Hiroki Sugita, Ben Spitz, Megumi Kataoka, Jean Luyat (now in Orrick’s New York office), and Kersten Broms (a former intern).