In this borderless world where people and materials come and go, a system which one country protects only its citizen may see the end coming. We see how refugees barely escape alive and how they live in refugee camps on media. Is it a story from a far-away land? For sure those needing safety come to this country, Japan too.
This time Amnesty International Japan, which actively conserves human rights around the world and a student group, CLOVER mainly helped us understand current conditions surrounding refugee applicants. In addition to that, a man who has applied for refugee status talked about what it is like to be an asylum seeker in Japan.
A refugee is defined as follows in The 1951 Refugee Convention;“someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Japan is one of the member countries of the Refugee Convention and plays a part in international community. However definition of refugees is vague and the process of how to certify a refugee heavily depends on each country’s judgment. It has been said that Japanese refugee certification rate is significantly low and the process is done under the opaque way. The reasons they did not grant refugee status are not revealed to applicants, and it is pointed out that only those who came from specific countries are approved as refugees.
A wariness that they grant refugee status considering relations between countries persists because certificating refugee status is equal to admitting their home country is in an unsafe condition. Although defects in Japanese refugee system is criticized repeatedly, a dilemma concerning international law is in the way of practically changing it. International laws basically have non-interventionism and that makes uneasy to force Japan to change its policy.
What’s more UHNCR, the UN refugee agency, is supposed to call Japan to accept more refugees but it might be hard to do so strongly since Japan is one of the five largest donators to UHNCR. When having a look at asylum seeker side, applying refugee status is extremely difficult faced with tangled procedure and language barrier. In addition to that, refugee applicants hardly have goods essential to prove persecution since carrying the proof itself can be a risk when leaving their homelands. While they apply for refugee status, they cannot receive supports from the government to settle and some are permitted to work but it is still not easy to get a stable job. Although Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act does not affirmatively accept refugee applicants but tends to blow them off, asylum seekers keep applying without being able to show undeniable proof of persecution. The seemingly endless argument goes on. When the application is not accepted, they order asylum seekers to leave Japan and most of them choose to go back their homeland if possible. But yet those who could not do so because of their family and persecution fall into overstaying or being in detention with unlimited duration. Mental distress is immeasurable as hunger strikes have frequently occurred these days to improve the situation in detention centers and prolonged detention.
This time we were lucky enough to hear from a man who has applied for refugee status.
He came from South Asia and used to be a graduate student. Participating in a resistance movement in his home land, he felt tremendous fear for suppression over the action and public security even police could not control. He landed up Japan in 2012 for the first time.
He opened his mouth on refugee policy in Japan. Though it is impermissible to misuse refugee application to get a job, applying for refugee status and seeking for peaceful life mean finding jobs to live safely. That is, refugee applicants are readily thought as someone who seeks employment rather than physical security. He also shows displeasure with a distorted view towards him in Japan. Even though he does not have any penal record, people sometimes project the same negative impression on him as his home country. His homeland is widely known as unsafe. It seems to be no easy matter to make a living in Japan where they do not understand refugees adequately.
In order to spread the understanding of refugees in Japan, there is an organization supporting refugee applicants detained at Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center. It is “CLOVER”, the student group of the University of Tsukuba. The name of it is derived from their motto “Care & Love for Refugees”, and they work hard on helping the detainees spend every day with hope. CLOVER actively operates public and on campus. As for public, they visit immigration detention center and set time to communicate with the inmate there. They also send learning materials for Japanese and help asylum seekers translate documents required for provisional release. On campus, they exhibit posters explaining refugees on World Refugee Day, 20th June. Their activities draw great responses. They got chances to discuss with other university students. Moreover, many people who saw the exhibition started participating in visits. The 10th representative, talks about the motivation of the activities as follows. “Through the activities, I actually broadened my perspective by talking with inmates. They even cheer me up.” Vice representative says “Many people are interested in international affairs at the University of Tsukuba, but when they hear of refugees, they think of Syrian refugees and so on. They do not know much about refugees in Japan.” This is not limited to the University of Tsukuba, but may be common in various refugee support activities. We know about refugees in distant countries by news report, so many people want to help them. However, little is known about refugees who are close to them. This is one end of Japan’s refugee problem.
Can we call Japan as a part of globalized world when it only protects its citizen?
While a sovereign state and world community impose responsibility to guard asylum on each other, they leave motherland with hope and despair no end.
Written by Manae Otsuka, Midori Yuki, Toko Sone
Edited by Mitacam crew