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Asylum seekers find help at JAR

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The number of people seeking asylum in Japan reached some 2,600 at the end of October, adding to the soaring rate of those with no residency rights or financial assistance.

Although asylum applicants have surged sharply, especially in the last three years, the refugee-recognition rate is sliding. In 2012, Japan granted asylum to only 18 people — the fewest on record — out of 2,545 applicants.

“The living conditions of asylum seekers are one of our biggest concerns,” said Mika Sakurai, senior social assistance officer at the Tokyo-based Japan Association for Refugees (JAR), a regular recipient of the Japan Times Readers’ Fund. The group has been providing asylum seekers and other apparent refugees with a wide range of legal and social assistance since 1999.

“More than 100 foreigners come (to the JAR office in Shinjuku Ward) every month and over 1,000 came here last year and the preceding year, seeking livelihood support,” Sakurai said.

Donations worth ¥20,000 from the Japan Times Readers’ Fund last year were used to support a man from Southeast Asia who had left his country for political reasons. His asylum application was rejected by the government.

“He was in poor health, requiring regular hospital visits,” Sakurai said, explaining JAR’s decision to provide him with a month’s worth of financial aid.

Following an initial refusal of asylum by immigration inspectors and a further refusal at the “objection procedure” stage, he applied for a judicial review. As his appeal to overturn the denial was also turned down, he reapplied for refugee recognition for a second time.

JAR provided ¥30,000 to a man from South Asia seeking asylum for his family of five, including a child with health problems. His application was rejected at the “objection procedure” stage. The donation was given to cover expenses for half a month.

“Many of those awaiting the government’s decision, not eligible for the financial assistance from the government, become homeless,” Sakurai said. “They are left without assistance and a work permit.”

Sakurai pointed out that there is no set time frame for asylum recognition procedures, and it takes about two months to receive public assistance and years before getting a final decision regarding asylum. “They come (to the office) to take a meal or a nap, as some of them have nowhere to go,” she said.

JAR legal officer Susumu Tada said many asylum seekers are unable to return to their country out of fear of being persecuted for political or other reasons, such as being a homosexual.

“The problems vary depending on the country,” Tada said, stressing that along with many people from Myanmar seeking asylum in Japan, the number of Turkish Kurds and refugees from African countries such as Cameroon is also growing.

“Many Japanese are still not aware of the refugees’ problems,” said Sakurai. “Through our activities we also aim to provide Japanese with an opportunity to deepen their understanding about . . . refugees and their cultures.”

Donations can be made via bank transfers to the following bank account: Iidabashi Branch of Mizuho Bank, 061-8043319. Account name: Japan Association for Refugees. The Swift Code for international transfers is MHBKJPJT.