Diplomatic issues close door on families seeking status

Around 300 Kurds live in and around Kawaguchi and neighboring Warabi. Most came to Japan in the 1990s, and many have applied for refugee status due to persecution by the Turkish government.

But support organizations say not a single one of them has been recognized.

According to the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau, there were 1,599 applicants for refugee status in 2008, close to double the previous year’s figure. In 2009, there were 1,388. Only 57 were recognized in 2008, and 30 in 2009.

Japan’s refugee recognition rate remains in single figures and is low compared with other developed countries. That has given Japan a reputation for closing its door on refugees.

“Refugee recognition is closely connected to diplomatic relations,” said lawyer Sosuke Seki, a supporter of [a] Kurdish family [recently granted limited special permission for residence]. “Turkey and Japan enjoy a cordial relationship, so if Japan were to recognize these refugees, they would be acknowledging the fact that they have been persecuted by the Turkish government.”

The Japanese government’s unsympathetic treatment of refugees from nations it regards as allies has also generated feelings of disaffection among Tibetans and Uighurs living in Japan.

A member of nonprofit organization Japan Association for Refugees said, “Before accepting new refugees, we should be protecting the ones who have already sought refuge in Japan.”

The country’s poor record in accepting refugees and the opaqueness of its recognition criteria have given rise to suspicions that it will not grant refugee status to immigrants from countries it counts as allies.