TOKYO, January 30, 2009 (AFP) – The number of asylum seekers in Japan doubled last year amid turmoil in Myanmar but only a small number of them were granted refugee status, government figures showed Friday.

By comparison, the United States resettles up to 50,000 refugees a year. Japan imposes tight restrictions on immigration and has faced international criticism for not granting sanctuary to more asylum seekers, even though it is a major aid provider to refugees overseas.

The number of asylum seekers in Japan rose to 1,599 from 816 a year earlier, the immigration office said. Japan granted refugee status to 57 of them — more than 90 percent of whom were from Myanmar.

Japan also gave a record 360 people permission to stay temporarily on humanitarian grounds.

Japan late last year also agreed to accept a handful of Myanmar refugees living in camps in Thailand, marking the first time it has joined a UN-led resettlement plan.

The increase in asylum seekers follows a deteriorating situation in Myanmar, where the military junta crushed pro-democracy protests in late 2007.

Impoverished Myanmar was also hit last year by Cyclone Nargis which killed 138,366 people, according to UN figur