National

Japan’s Kurds often in limbo, despite significant community

by Tadashi Tsumura

Kyodo

As Kurdish people in Japan seek to settle and adjust to life, some harbor misgivings about their future and for the safety of their relatives back home.

“It’s too sad, and I remember him whatever I see,” said a 35-year-old Kurdish chef in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, of his 25-year-old brother. The man, a militia member, was killed during a firefight with Islamic State militants in a Kurdish town near the border between Turkey and Syria in June.

Ethnic Kurds inhabit a mountainous region spanning parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. While they are estimated to number 20 million to 30 million worldwide, more than 10 million live in Turkey.

Kurdish militias are fighting Islamic State militants near the Syria-Turkey border, and Ankara launched full-scale air raids in July on targets related to the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which advocates independence from Turkish rule.

Kurds began to migrate to Japan mostly from Turkey in the 1990s, says a Japanese support group. They created a large community near East Japan Railway Co.’s Warabi Station, and significant numbers also exist in Osaka and Aichi prefectures.

Some 1,000 Kurds live in the Warabi area — humorously dubbing their community “Warabistan.”

Kurds usually enter Japan for tourism or on short stays as visas are not required for temporary visits by Turkish passport-holders. They then file for refugee status, citing human rights abuses in Turkey.

While 3,415 Kurds have so far applied for refugee status, none has yet received it, the Japanese support group says.

Kurdish men usually find work at construction sites or in restaurants, but some Kurds live in poverty without regular jobs as illegal residents.

Moreover, a considerable number of Kurdish children do not go to school, a fact which local governments have yet to confront fully.

The Japan Kurdish Cultural Association in Kawaguchi, Saitama, holds a class every Sunday to teach Kurdish children their language and culture. It also offers information about daily life in Japan.

Instances of irritation by neighbors have come to light, when Kurds fail to follow garbage disposal rules or party late into the night.

Many try to fit in. One such individual is a 16-year-old girl who attends volunteer clean-up sweeps of a park in Warabi every month and enjoys chatting with other participants in Japanese. Studying at a night high school, she hopes to work as a Japanese-Kurdish interpreter one day.

“I don’t want to return to Turkey in the current situation, but it will be difficult for me to make my dream come true in Japan,” she said expressing misgivings about the future.