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Hoping to give the public an opportunity to learn more about people seeking political asylum in Japan, refugee applicants being processed by the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau held a community outreach party last weekend.

Displaced people from various parts of the world gathered at Nanzan University in Showa Ward, Nagoya, along with supporters to hold the unusual event, serving dishes from their home countries.

“We hope sitting together with us around the table to eat will help Japanese people feel more familiar with the refugees issue,” one of them said.

The party was organized by Moses Ssentamu, 36, who came to Japan from Uganda.

Ten refugee applicants from eight countries served up dishes ranging from chapati to Pakistani mutton curry and a Tanzanian bean dish.

The dishes were prepared by people who fled conflict and persecution in their homelands in the hope of gaining safe refuge in Japan. They were joined by 20 Japanese supporters.

“Many Japanese think that we came to Japan for jobs. But I want them to know the situation is that we can’t return to our home countries,” said Ssentamu, who was detained four times by the Ugandan government on treason charges for planning antigovernment demonstrations.

Ssentamu left his wife and four children to come to Japan in 2006 and was jailed as an illegal resident about 2 1/2 years later. Last September he was released on parole but prohibited from working and isn’t even allowed to get health insurance.

In the meantime, he is still awaiting word from immigration authorities about his asylum application.

According to the Justice Ministry, about 1,200 people applied for refugee status in Japan in 2010. Although that’s five times more than a decade ago, only 39 were granted visas.

On humanitarian grounds, 363 were allowed to stay in Japan, but 90 percent of these people are from Myanmar, revealing a huge gap among regions.

It takes an average of two years for an application to be screened. During that period, applicants are basically not allowed to work in Japan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and U.K., which also are signatories to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, permit refugees to work after a certain time or even during the application period.

“We wish the Japanese government also opens the door for us,” said Ssentamu.

Refugee applicants conversant in English try to fit in in their communities by becoming volunteer teachers of the language.

Hideichi Tsuda, 60, an official of Amnesty International Japan, noted refugees want to stand on their feet and not be dependent on a host nation, and Japan, which has ratified the convention, should seriously consider ways to be more open.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 27.

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