National

UNHCR petitioned to aid Kurd asylum-seekers

Two Kurdish families seeking asylum in Japan and their supporters submitted more than 3,000 signatures Friday to the Tokyo office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees seeking support for their plea.

The 12 Kurds have been staging a sit-in outside United Nations University in Tokyo since last month after Japanese immigration officials rejected their applications for refugee status.

Friday marked one month since they began their protest on July 13 in hopes that the U.N. refugee agency will help their case.

A lawyer helping the two families said Japanese immigration authorities leaked personal information about several Kurdish refugees, including one of those participating in the sit-in, to the Turkish government when seeking information about them.

Such actions go against universally accepted rules on the treatment of refugees, according to the UNHCR.

The 12 Kurds, who live in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, are hoping their sit-in will prod the UNHCR to step up pressure on Japan, which is known for its rigid stance on refugees even though it joined the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1981 and revised its immigration laws this year.

The Kurds are calling on the UNHCR to recognize them as refugees and help them either stay in Japan or move to a third country.

“The refugee treaty means human rights protection. Japan says it is democratic and observes international laws, but why does it not protect us?” asked Ahmet Kazankiran, 48, father of one of the families, speaking to about 70 supporters, including Japanese and Kurds, gathered in front of the university building.

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