In-migration embodies the liberal-democratic paradox: the tension between the right of an individual and the collective will of a polity. This is well illustrated by escalating conflicts over admission of the “special category” of international migrants: refugees. Taking Japan as a notoriously difficult case, this paper analyzes recent developments in Japan's embattled refugee policy and argues that grassroots efforts by civil society provide a way to move beyond the current gridlock of the state-centric paradigm of refugee admission. Specifically, empirical evidence available to date suggests that private refugee sponsorship that enables individuals and community organizations to voluntarily sponsor the resettlement of UN-recognized refugees offers a viable policy instrument in Japan's context. While retaining the democratic communitarian outlook on admission of foreigners, the model injects liberal universalist qualities into immigration policy that are capable of motivating positive change domestically and, potentially, across East Asia at large.

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