In a dingy apartment in Kawaguchi, Saitama, Turkish Kurd Meryem Kosan and her children Merve, 4, and Mehmet Serxwebijn, 12 months, wait for their father Erdal to come home.
Eerdal has been locked up in a detention center for illegal immigrants and visa overstayers in Ibaraki Prefecture for the past three months.
Meryem says they were managing to scratch out a life for themselves in Japan, where Erdal worked as a demolition laborer on day-wages, until the authorities told them their asylum applications had been rejected and took them both into custody.
“We had left the children with friends before we went to the immigration center and when they heard what happened they brought the children to the center to tell us they couldn’t look after them while we were locked up. So I was released.”
Her husband has been in Japan since January 1999 after he fled what she says was persecution for his political activities as a Kurdish activist.
She says he came to Japan because of its visa exemption agreement with Turkey.
Since her husband’s incarceration, Meryem has relied on the help of her few friends as well as Japanese aid agencies, but she and her children are living very close to the edge. Unpaid electricity, gas and water bills have piled up.
The only words of Japanese she speaks are “onegaeshimasu” and “arigato,” which she uses to plead with utility workers who come to cut off her supplies. Rent for the apartment is three months in arrears.
A spokesperson for the Immigration Bureau said that the bureau has no system for supporting families in cases like this, adding that it expects nonprofit organizations or local governments to take up the slack. Meryem says she got some help from volunteer refugee agencies but it has dried up.
In the meantime, she tries to visit her husband once a month. More is impossible because he is so far away.