National / Crime & Legal

Kurdish refugee released on bail after 17 months in detention reunites with family in Tokyo

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

The tears of joy were impossible to contain Monday for the 8-year-old son of Kurdish asylum-seeker Mehmet Colak, who was released on the day after being detained for 17 months at Tokyo Regional Detention House.

“I feel so splendid. There are so many things I want to tell my dad,” said his youngest son, whose name is being kept private by his mother for personal reasons. “I want to go to Disneyland. I want to go camping with my dad.”

Colak, 39, arrived in Japan in 2004 after fleeing Turkey. He has filed for refugee status four times but all of those requests have been turned down, the most recent being declined Monday.

To avoid remaining in Japan illegally, after a short-term visa he held initially on arrival in the country expired, he had applied for provisional release status.

The status prohibited Colak from physically leaving Saitama Prefecture, where he had been living with his wife and three sons, but the family was able to remain in Japan.

The provisional release program also does not allow asylum-seekers to work as they can under the temporary visas typically granted to those who have not seen a request for refugee status denied. Without an income, the family had been subsisting with help from relatives who are able to work legally in Japan.

Then, on Jan. 11, 2018, his provisional release status, which needed to be renewed every two months, was suddenly revoked without explanation. Colak was immediately taken into custody by immigration officials.

During his detention he developed significant health problems, including chest pains and severe migraines. In March, his condition deteriorated suddenly and he began to suffer convulsions. But staff at the immigration detention facility in the capital’s Minato Ward refused to send him to a hospital and turned back two ambulances that his family had called in desperation.

The detention center’s reluctance to allow him access to medical care beyond the facility attracted considerable public attention.

Japan’s detention policy is no stranger to criticism, having been condemned as notoriously callous in its handling of such matters and subject to considerable international criticism.

A report published in 2013 by the United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that Japan should “ensure that the detention of asylum-seekers is only used as a last resort, when necessary, for as short a period as possible,” and that it should “introduce a maximum period of detention pending deportation.”

Colak’s release was sudden and unexpected, and no reasons have been given for the move.

His lawyer, Takeshi Ohashi, said that immigration officials stated there were several reasons for the decision, but that they could not be disclosed. As a condition for his release, the family paid a ¥100,000 bail.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that he would be released. This 17-month period without my husband has been the hardest time for our kids and me,” said his wife. “One of my kids started sleepwalking, searching for his father in the kitchen, and I had to tell him that his dad is not here.”

Colak declined to hold a news conference Monday on his discharge from the detention facility due to fatigue. But speaking briefly, he expressed gratitude to his supporters — including the more than 5,000 people who signed a petition calling for his release.

“Thank you so much for the support … please continue (supporting us),” he said.

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