Ja­pan’s tiny refugee com­mu­nity urges Tokyo to open doors wider

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

YOKO­HAMA: Hi­toshi Kino, a be­spec­ta­cled cler­i­cal em­ployee at a univer­sity near Tokyo, doesn’t stand out. Only a slight Viet­namese ac­cent be­trays his past, as he speaks in Ja­panese about be­ing stranded on a rick­ety boat in wa­ters off his war-torn home­land in 1980, starv­ing with 32 oth­ers and left by pi­rates with noth­ing but his un­der­pants.

Kino, who was then Ky Tu Duong, is one of more than 11,000 refugees that Ja­pan took in over the three decades to 2005 in the af­ter­math of the Viet­nam War, un­der a lit­tle-re­mem­bered open-door pol­icy which has never been re­peated on such a scale.

Now, Kino and other “boat peo­ple” who have re­set­tled in Ja­pan be­lieve Tokyo should again open its doors and let in some of to­day’s asy­lum seek­ers, in­clud­ing those from Syria, not just for those in dis­tress but for Ja­pan’s sake as well “Ja­pan should open up a lit­tle to them to align it­self with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” Kino, who be­came a Ja­panese cit­i­zen in mid-1980s, said over Chi­nese dumplings and stir-fry at a restau­rant near his home west of Tokyo.

“It could be just 100, or 50. But it would be bet­ter than do­ing noth­ing.” Ja­pan took just 11 of 5,000 asy­lum­seek­ers last year, or 0.2 per­cent, the low­est ac­cep­tance rate in the club of rich na­tions, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment. In con­trast, France took 22 per­cent and Ger­many 42 per­cent.

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe has of­fered nearly $2 bil­lion to help other na­tions man­age the flood of refugees from Syria’s civil war, but his gov­ern­ment has vir­tu­ally shut the door on those flee­ing Europe’s worst mi­grant cri­sis since World War Two. This month’s at­tacks in Paris, in which 130 peo­ple were killed in mass shoot­ings and sui­cide bomb­ings blamed on Is­lamic State, could make any pub­lic dis­cus­sion of ac­cept­ing refugees into Ja­pan even more dif­fi­cult.

Re­luc­tance

The gov­ern­ment’s re­luc­tance to ac­cept refugees shows that open­ing up to im­mi­gra­tion is still po­lit­i­cally un­palat­able, de­spite an alarm­ing shrink­age in the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

Af­ter the 2011 nu­clear dis­as­ter caused by earth­quake and tsunami, “for­eign­ers scram­bled to leave Ja­pan. But few of us for­mer refugees fled”, Kino said. “Ja­pan helped us and took care of us. We would not desert such a coun­try.” In­dochina refugees speak not only of grat­i­tude to­ward their adopted coun­try but also of dif­fi­cul­ties they have faced try­ing to fit into so­ci­ety, which prides it­self on its ho­mo­ge­neous cul­ture. For­eign­ers make up only 2 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

On the job, some Ja­panese “as­sume we don’t understand things eas­ily and we are not smart”, said Hoai Takahashi, an­other refugee from Viet­nam who changed his name from Hoang Drong Hoai.

“They even say things like ‘This job should not be left to th­ese peo­ple,’ in our very pres­ence.”

Banri Kawai, for­merly Nguyen Van Ry, works at a fa­cil­ity in east­ern Ja­pan that houses five for­mer Viet­namese refugees with men­tal ill­ness. He said they had been bul­lied by their Ja­panese se­niors at work. “They lost sleep and de­vel­oped men­tal con­di­tions,” he said af­ter at­tend­ing Sun­day ser­vice with Takahashi at a Catholic church north of Tokyo.

Chrisna Ito, who ar­rived in Ja­pan at the age of 15, says she was re­buked at a fac­tory dorm for us­ing the communal bath be­fore oth­ers had fin­ished. She as­sumed they thought she was dirty be­cause her skin was darker than that of a typ­i­cal Ja­panese.

Ito, a 43-year-old nurs­ery school worker who was Cheth Chan Chrisna be­fore flee­ing Cam­bo­dia, had to start work­ing at the rub­ber fac­tory to sup­port her fam­ily af­ter six months of lan­guage and other ad­just­ment train­ing. It was only af­ter she mar­ried and had chil­dren - now in high school and col­lege - that she ful­filled her as­pi­ra­tion to go to ju­nior high and high school.

Asked how she feels about the gov­ern­ment sup­port she re­ceived, Ito re­flected for a mo­ment.

“I am grate­ful. But at the same time, I can­not help won­der­ing if Ja­pan could have done a lit­tle bet­ter.” —Reuters

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