Myanmar refugee can stay, high court agrees


The Nagoya High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling invalidating a government order to deport a Myanmarese asylum-seeker, agreeing that the man faces persecution if he returns home because of his involvement in democracy activities.

In September 2003, the district court ruled against a government order to deport Khin Maung Hla, 40, on grounds that he fits the description of a refugee under the 1951 U.N. convention, defined as someone who cannot return to a home country “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race . . . or political opinion.”

However, the district court did say the justice minister acted lawfully when he rejected Khin Maung Hla’s asylum application, which was made after a 60-day deadline set by the ministry.

Critics have argued that the deadline makes it easy for Japan to shut its doors to people seeking refuge, saying they will accept no application that is late. The government is considering scrapping the rule.

Presiding Judge Takeaki Noda of the high court ruled that it “cannot possibly be guaranteed that he would not be persecuted if he is sent back to Myanmar,” given that he is a key member in the Nagoya chapter of a national democracy group of Myanmarese living Japan.

The Justice Ministry had argued that his activities here did not put him in danger of being persecuted if he returned home.

In May 2005, Khin Maung Hla’s Filipino wife, Absin Eden Monteclaro, was detained by Nagoya immigration authorities for overstaying her visa.

Monteclaro, 31, was released about a month later and the couple have been living in Japan on provisional release.

According to district court documents, Khin Maung Hla is a member of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and was involved in democracy activities there. Worried that he might be detained by the military junta, he fled to Japan in June 1992 on a fake passport.

“My experience in Japan has become a major trauma, but I strongly feel I want to do something for others who are going through the same suffering,” said Khin Maung Hla, who was the head of the Nagoya democracy group last year.

Khin also meets with Japanese immigration officials on behalf of other Myanmarese in detention, saying, “I’m the one who understands their sufferings the most.”

The asylum-seeker works making signboards, but his company will only promote him slowly because he takes leave for his work with the democracy movement.

However, he says he will continue his work in Japan.

“Even if it is democratized, Myanmar cannot grow without Japan’s help,” Khin said.