Nearly 40 asylum seekers and their Japanese supporters staged a protest Friday outside the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, demanding the immediate release of refugee applicants who have been detained there and at other immigration facilities.
In the first action of its kind, the protesters, mainly Kurdish Turks and Myanmarese democracy activists, also collected signatures from visitors to the bureau building in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward for a petition that they plan to submit to the Justice Ministry.
Hoisting banners and message boards, the protesters shouted in chorus for three hours. Some of the detainees inside the building responded by whistling and shouting back.
Dozens of refugee applicants detained at the facility have staged a weeklong hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention, protesters said.
Deniz Dogan, a 26-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker who was released from a 20-month period of detention at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ibaraki Prefecture this week, described his detention as “mentally and physically devastating.”
“I came to Japan with legitimate reasons and have never committed any offense since,” said Dogan, who arrived in Japan in 2000 and had his application for asylum rejected two years later. He has since asked a court to reverse the decision and accept him as a refugee.
“But throughout my years in Japan, I have been treated as nothing more than a criminal,” he said.
A senior official of the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau said that asylum seekers, even before they are rejected, can be detained if they fail to file their applications properly or enter Japan illegally.
Once an application is rejected, an applicant can be detained even while his or her rejection is being re-examined by the courts.
The Kurdish protesters claimed that more than 400 Kurdish people have come to Japan over the past decade in search of political asylum, but none have been granted refugee status.
Japan accepted only 10 refugees last year after rejecting 298 applicants.
“Japan should first make it clear to the world about the essence of its refugee policy. It rarely accepts them and keeps applicants in prisons for years,” one of the Kurdish protesters said.