While mystery continues to shroud the May 8 incident at the Japanese Consulate General in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in which police entered the compound and seized five North Korean asylum seekers, the spotlight has fallen again on Japan’s reluctance to accept refugees.

The 1951 Convention on Status of Refugees, which Japan ratified in 1982, obliges signatories to protect asylum seekers who fear persecution in their home countries.

In reality, however, the fates of refugees vary widely depending on where they seek protection.

The destination is what has determined the fates of asylum-seeking Kurdish brothers from Turkey — one went to Germany and two chose Japan.

Fahret Berg (not his real name) could not hide his surprise and resentment against the Japanese government when he came from Germany to see his brothers in Saitama Prefecture last week.

He requested not to have his real name published because he fears this may endanger his brothers in Japan and family in Turkey.

The 26-year-old Kurd has been granted refugee status in Germany, while his two brothers, one age 38 and the other 23, have been denied asylum by Japan.

The brothers come from Camurlu, a Turkish village with several hundred Kurds. Since the early 1990s, residents have been repeatedly harassed by the Turkish security force, which suspects they are involved with Kurdish guerrillas seeking independence, the brothers said.

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the crackdown on Kurdish rebels has been extended to citizens merely suspected of being sympathetic to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Tired of repeated raids and interrogations, most young Kurds from the village have fled to Europe, Japan and Australia, according to the brothers.

There was no particular reason Fahret chose Germany when he left the village in October 1998 with three others. One of his group simply knew of a way to smuggle themselves into the country.

After arriving in a small town in Germany via France, the local government provided him with an apartment as well as more than 1,000 marks (about 115,000 yen) per month for food, clothes and other daily expenses while waiting for a decision on his application, he said.

“If what my brother said is true, we feel as if we are treated here like criminals, even though we have done nothing wrong,” said the eldest brother, who came to Japan in 1999 because the country did not require a visa for tourists from Turkey.

Some fellow Kurds had warned him that he could face detention by immigration authorities in Japan. But he said he did not care because the danger of being jailed was much higher in Turkey.

The youngest brother followed the same route half a year later.

The brothers both applied for refugee status shortly after arriving in Japan, and were turned down, one in January 2000 and the other last July, by the Justice Ministry. Their appeals against the decision were dismissed, in July and February.

Along with other Turkish Kurds denied refugee status here, they plan to file suits demanding nullification of the ministry’s decision.

The brothers are currently under provisional release and have to report to an immigration bureau in Kita Ward, Tokyo, once a month. Some of their compatriots seeking asylum have been detained at immigration centers.

“I feel scared every time I turn myself in to immigration that I may be held and detained,” the eldest brother said.

The brothers said they manage to make a living by sharing manual labor jobs.

“It seems to me that what the Japanese government has done to my brothers is the same as the Turkish government,” Fahret said. “Why can’t Japan recognize only a few hundred Kurds already in Japan?”

Last year, 190 Turkish nationals — most of them Kurds — applied for refugee status here. But out of the hundreds who have arrived over the past few years, it is believed the Justice Ministry has not recognized any as refugees.

In one positive development, however, the Tokyo District Court in March reversed the ministry’s decision on one asylum seeker, a 46-year-old Turkish Kurd, supporting his claim that he faces persecution at home.

Lawyers supporting Kurdish asylum seekers suspect the Japanese government is reluctant to accept them as refugees out of diplomatic consideration for Turkey.

In fact, some Turkish Kurds have been granted special residency permission by the ministry, which is usually granted only to spouses of Japanese citizens.

Lawyer Kanae Doi believes a similar diplomatic consideration is behind Japan’s reluctance to recognize asylum seekers from China.

A 51-year-old Chinese democracy activist was finally granted refugee status in December, 11 years after his first application. It is extremely rare for Japan to give refugee status to a Chinese antigovernment activist.

At least six Chinese Falun Gong followers, including some studying in Japan, have applied for refugee status in Tokyo over the past year, claiming Chinese authorities will not let them return home.

There are believed to be thousands of Chinese Falun Gong followers throughout Japan, according to members of the group.

Hours before the North Korean asylum seekers were dragged out of the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang, whether at the request of the consulate, as alleged, or not, Japan’s ambassador to China reportedly told staff at the embassy in Beijing to remove any North Koreans should they try to enter the embassy compound.

The Foreign Ministry has denied Koreshige Anami made the remark, claiming that he only instructed officials to tighten security.

It is not the first time such remarks by Japanese diplomats have surfaced. A Czech news agency earlier this month reported that an official at the Japanese Embassy in Prague told local Gypsy asylum seekers not to fly to Japan because there was no chance of Tokyo granting them refugee status.

The Foreign Ministry has denied that an official at the embassy made the remark. However, people supporting asylum seekers in Japan said the report seems credible.

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