Two hot, sometimes stormy months have passed since two Kurdish families from Turkey began a round-the-clock sit-in in front of United Nations University to protest the Justice Ministry’s refusal to grant them refugee status.
And they are clearly exhausted.
Living on food from a nearby convenience store and sleeping on cardboard or in a tent, the families have stayed put through the summer heat and multiple typhoons.
Ahmet Kazankiran, 48, the father of one of the families, had to be hospitalized for a few days in August due to fatigue. His 16-year-old daughter was taken to a hospital earlier this month for stomach pains and anemia.
But Kazankiran said nothing will derail their resolve.
“This isn’t just about our families,” Kazankiran said. “We are humans, bleeding tears and fighting for all asylum seekers in Japan.”
Both families arrived in Japan in the 1990s and have been seeking refugee status ever since, only to be turned down three times in the case of Kazankiran’s family. They are now both seeking court injunctions for permission to stay.
Deportation orders have been issued to all 12 members of the two families. They have avoided detention due to their provisional release status.
“The Japanese government is treating us like criminals,” said Erdal Dogan, 30, the father of the other family, whose members include a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. “What did my two little babies do to deserve such treatment?”
Dogan’s asylum bid has been rejected twice by immigration authorities. For months, the families have faced the fear of being deported back to Turkey, where they say they would face persecution.
Immigration officials traveled to Turkey and interviewed relatives of the asylum seekers in cooperation with Turkish police, trying to ascertain the circumstances under which they left the country.
Supporters of the two families say such action on the part of Japanese authorities has put the relatives — and the asylum seekers if deported — in greater danger of persecution.
The two families had hoped the Tokyo office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would urge Japan to grant them refugee status, or help them move to a third country.
But a UNHCR official said the matter is up to Japan to decide, noting the office will only monitor and provide information on the families to the government.
The official also stated the UNHCR has repeatedly advised the families to leave the U.N. property, citing concerns for their health.
In a country where few asylum seekers have been granted refugee status — only 10 out of 336 applicants last year — the outlook appears bleak for the Kazankirans and Dogans. But at the same time, several people have begun to show up outside U.N. University in a show of solidarity.
One is Daisuke Kokuba, a university student who has camped out with the families intermittently since late July.
“People are bringing in food, drinks and blankets to help the families,” Kokuba said. “I got to see the good, kind side of the Japanese people. I just hope that our government will follow” their example.
The supporters have stationed themselves near the school’s entrance. They collected 19,670 signatures that were handed to the Justice Ministry on Tuesday, asking the government to grant refugee status. On Sunday, Shokichi Kina, an Okinawa singer and House of Councilors member of the Democratic Party of Japan, staged a concert in support of the families.
The Dogans and Kazankirans also had a visit from Kiyohiko Toyama, an Upper House member from New Komeito who has been actively engaged in refugee issues.
“With Japanese officials cooperating with the Turkish military and police, I don’t think a fair examination (of the families’ case) was conducted,” Toyama said. “Under the circumstances, I personally think the families should be given special residency permission.”
An official of the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau said special residency status is granted on humanitarian grounds or due to “the state of international affairs.”