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Tokyo court defies Justice Ministry in ordering asylum for Sri Lankan man

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

The Tokyo District Court on Thursday made a rare order to the state to grant asylum to a Sri Lankan man who had his refugee application declined by the Justice Ministry despite an earlier successful lawsuit.

The 58-year-old plaintiff, who declined to be named, is a member of the ethnic Tamil minority. He applied for refugee status in October 2006, believing his life was in danger after Sri Lankan police suspected him of collaborating with a Tamil rebel group during the civil war that lasted until 2009.

When the man fled the country, he originally planned to join his brother in Canada and claim asylum there. But he was stopped from boarding his flight to Canada at Central Japan International Airport in Aichi Prefecture because he did not have a valid passport to enter Japan.

His first application for refugee status was declined in November 2006, about two months after he first arrived in Japan. In August 2007 he took the case to the Osaka District Court, which ruled in favor of him in March 2011 and rescinded the ministry’s decision to deny him refugee status.

That ruling was later finalized after the state declined to appeal. But the ministry made an extremely rare decision in December 2011 to deny the man refugee status despite his court victory, on the grounds that the civil war had ended and he was no longer likely, in the ministry’s view, to face danger of persecution.

As of 2015 there had been only three cases in which the Justice Ministry denied individuals refugee status despite existing court decisions in their favor.

In August 2015 the Sri Lankan man sued the government for a second time seeking refugee status, this time through the Tokyo District Court, which supported the plaintiff’s claim that his life would be in danger should he return to Sri Lanka. Although he still has not been granted asylum, the man now lives in Japan with a temporary residency status.

“I want to do so many things in my life, and I’m so happy about this judgment,” he told reporters at a Tokyo news conference following the ruling. “I feel like I can do something good for Japan.”

“I feel that the court fulfilled the role it should be playing (in society) with this ruling… and for that I am grateful to the judges,” said his laywer, Shogo Watanabe.

Referring to a spate of recent court rulings that have rejected applications for refugee status, Watanabe said “the judiciary had not been serving its role to keep (the government) in check” and that recent rulings had “merely echoed government policy.”

If the Justice Ministry does not appeal the Tokyo court ruling, the next step will be for the ministry to provide a certificate to the man proving his status as a refugee, explained Watanabe. In a statement released shortly after the ruling, the ministry said it was “reviewing the (court) decision” and declined to specify whether it planned to file an appeal.