A Myanmarese asylum-seeker who recently received a special residence permit filed a damages suit against the government Friday, demanding 11 million yen for being detained despite his status as a refugee, his lawyers said.

The 41-year-old man “may have been given a special residence permit but his (mental and physical) damage was too deep to let this pass,” lawyer Masako Suzuki told a news conference after the suit was filed.

The Myanmarese was detained by immigration authorities between July 2003 and November 2004, when he was granted a provisional release. On March 1, he was issued a special residence permit.

“No reason was given (for issuing the permit). But I suspect that (the Justice Ministry) knew it could not come up with evidence that could overturn” the man’s claim that he was in danger of persecution back home, Suzuki said.

According to a Tokyo District Court ruling, the man was engaged in antigovernment activities in his home country.

He was arrested and charged with illegally entering Japan on a forged passport in April 2003. He was sentenced by the court in July that year to a suspended two-year prison term.

The court acknowledged that the man had engaged in the democracy movement as an aide to Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The criminal trial clearly acknowledged” that there was a danger of persecution, Suzuki said. “We submitted substantial evidence and we thought that it was enough” to ensure the man’s refugee status in Japan.

But the man’s bid for refugee recognition was denied in September 2003, and he was issued a deportation order.

During his 19 months of detention, the man suffered serious depression and was prescribed antidepressants, Suzuki said.

At the news conference, the man spoke of the trauma that the long-term detention had caused him. “I am suffering from nightmares, being constantly reminded of those days in Myanmar,” he said. “I am even frightened of leaving my own house.”

The man asked the media not to reveal his identity because he fears his wife and children back home could be persecuted.

The was a bodyguard for Suu Kyi during the 1990s. He lived in one of the buildings in her residence and was an active member of antigovernment groups Three Colors and the National League for Democracy.

On July 20, 1989, junta officials entered Suu Kyi’s house and arrested the man and other leaders of the NLD.

Following his release after two years in jail, the man left the country and lived abroad for several years. In 1999, he briefly returned to Myanmar, only to be placed under surveillance by military officials. He fled to Japan that same year.

Tokyo told Turkish cops about Kurd now in detention

A Kurdish asylum-seeker, whose personal information was released to Turkish authorities by Japanese immigration officials last summer, was detained Friday by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, lawyers said.

The Kurd, whose name has been withheld, made his monthly appearance Friday at the immigration bureau in Tokyo’s Minato Ward to have his provisional release renewed, but was denied and detained.

“(He) came to Japan in fear of persecution back home (in Turkey), but since the investigation by Japanese immigration officials in Turkey last summer, his status has become even more vulnerable,” said Takeshi Ohashi, one of the lawyers supporting Kurdish asylum-seekers. “He needs protection, not detention.”

Last July, Japanese immigration officials traveled to Turkey and cooperated with authorities there to look into the backgrounds of Kurdish asylum-seekers in Japan, including the latest detainee.

“Because of this, (the Kurd’s) father was questioned by Turkish police in January,” said Masashi Ichikawa, the man’s lawyer. “(The father) was told that Turkish police were looking for (him).”

The Kurd’s brother, Halil, who fled to Australia in 2000, where he was recognized as a refugee and given citizenship, expressed his disbelief over his brother’s situation.

“The Australian government believed me, but why didn’t the Japanese believe my brother?” Halil asked. “I don’t understand. Aren’t we (of) the same blood?”

The Kurd, who arrived in Japan in 1994, has repeatedly applied for refugee status for fear of persecution for supporting Kurdish rights activists.

In March, the Tokyo District Court dismissed his lawsuit to reverse the Justice Ministry decision denying him refugee status. He appealed to the Tokyo High Court last week.

Thrice court-recognized refugee wants ministry nod

Afghan asylum-seeker Abdul Aziz says he is tired of fighting.

After being recognized in court as a refugee three times, the Justice Ministry refuses to grant Aziz refugee status.

“Isn’t it enough?” he asked. “It has been proved three times by the court that I am a refugee. I am hoping that the Japanese government will believe it this time.”

The first two times that Aziz, 33, was recognized as a refugee were when he was tried for illegally entering Japan on a fake passport.

In June 2002, the Hiroshima District Court ruled he should not be punished because he was a refugee. Although the Hiroshima High Court overturned this ruling and fined Aziz 300,000 yen in September that same year, it also recognized him as a refugee.

On March 29, the district court revoked a Justice Ministry decision from 2002 that had denied Aziz refugee status.

“Of course, I was happy that I won,” Aziz said. “But winning was not the end of my problems, because my status is still unclear.”

Aziz, a member of the Hazara minority, arrived in Japan in June 2001 via Fukuoka Airport using a forged passport. He applied for refugee status in November that year, citing fear of persecution by the Taliban regime due to his ethnicity.

“I have seen Hazaras who have done nothing wrong dragged out of their homes and tortured” by the Taliban, he said.

The Justice Ministry denied him refugee status in February 2002, stating that there was no fear of persecution because the Taliban regime collapsed in December 2001.

“I am still in need of protection,” Aziz said. “The situation (in Afghanistan) is still insecure and unstable. There is no guarantee for (my) safety.”

Nathalie Karsenty, a senior legal officer at the Tokyo office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, agrees that while progress has been made in Afghanistan, parts of the country remain insecure.

Afghanistan “is a country that has faced an enormous strain. First a conflict and then a great deal of destruction,” Karsenty said. “It is on the way to reconstruction, but is still facing enormous difficulties.”

Data from the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau show that three Afghans were recognized as refugees in Japan in 2000, and six in 2002. The total number of Afghan asylum-seekers recognized as refugees in Japan was not available.

None has been recognized in the Tokyo area, said Koichi Kodama, one of the lawyers representing Afghan asylum-seekers in the capital.

Kodama estimates that about 20 Afghans are currently seeking asylum in Japan. Many others have given up hope and left Japan to third countries, including the United Arab Emirates, he said.

“In many cases, asylum-seekers could not tolerate the lengthy detention or fear of being detained any longer and withdrew their lawsuits,” Kodama said.

Trauma cause by months of detention has also affected Aziz, who said he is seeing a psychiatrist to deal with his depression and memory loss.

Aziz was detained by immigration authorities between June and October 2002.

He is now terrified that the government might appeal his case to the high court, again questioning his refugee status.

“I came here to save my life and to secure my fundamental human rights. But instead, I faced harsh treatment” like what I was trying to escape, he said. “I am asking the Japanese government to please stop making me suffer and to give me legal status so I can finally gain my freedom.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.