Show a fashion statement on asylum seekers

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Dismayed by Japan’s low acceptance rate for asylum seekers, a student group organized a fashion show spotlighting ethnic clothes to raise awareness among their peers of the harsh reality facing the underprivileged worldwide.

Organized by the group J-Fun Youth, the event titled “Why Blue?” attracted an impressive 700 fashion-conscious youngsters Thursday, mostly university students, to commemorate the U.N.-designated World Refugee Day.

Twenty student models walked the runway sporting an array of ethnic costumes, all based on the U.N. shade of blue.

Highlighted countries included Colombia, where 250,000 people remained internally displaced in 2012 due to rampant civil conflict, and Myanmar, where despite its recent progress toward democratization 400,000 people are still without homes, a reflection of lingering discrimination against more than 100 ethnic minorities.

Japan also came under the spotlight, mostly due to its abysmal acceptance rate for asylum seekers. A total of 2,545 people came to Japan in 2012 hoping to get refugee status, but only 18 — 0.7 percent — saw their applications approved.

But with today’s young people in Japan largely unaware of the situation, Thursday’s show sought to use the power of fashion to ignite their interest in the downtrodden and those in danger of persecution.

Rikkyo University student Tamaki Sakurai, a chief organizer of the event, said there are examples in Japan that can help young people relate to the hardships facing the world’s refugees.

“Think about what a mess we were put in after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami,” Sakurai said, referring to the widespread traffic disruptions in Tokyo that left many people unable to return home. “In a way, we experienced that night a similar fear facing refugees worldwide. I want young people in Japan to feel closer to the problem and stop dismissing it as something foreign and remote.”

Earlier this week, an NPO supporting refugees in Japan unveiled a raft of proposals, including a law to ensure better treatment of asylum seekers.

The proposals were compiled by the Forum for Refugees in Japan, a grouping of 16 similar-minded bodies, to bring Japan more in line with international standards in refugee protection.

The set of proposals, which the group hopes to present to the government in the near future, includes a demand that officials refrain in principle from deporting asylum seekers or subjecting them to long-term detention.

The group criticized the Immigration Bureau as being obsessed with whether applicants’ accounts of persecution are 100 percent accurate, oblivious of their distraught state of mind upon arrival.

Despite the low acceptance rate for refugees, Hiroaki Ishii, executive director of the Japan Association for Refugees, still believes Japan, when compared with other parts of Asia, has traditionally displayed great leadership in lending a hand to refugees.

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