Kurdish Asylum Seekers In Japan Live In Legal Limbo

"Japan bans us from working, but everyone knows that without foreigners this country’s in trouble. There aren’t enough workers and young Japanese can’t do these jobs."

Kurdish asylum seekers in Japan pave roads, digs sewers and line water pipes — and in return they are dubbed as “undesirables.”

Out of the 13,000 asylum seekers in Japan, some 1,000 Kurds live in the Warabi area outside of Tokyo, humorously labeling their community as “Warabistan.” A significant number of Kurds also exist in Osaka and Aichi prefectures.

Many Kurds usually enter Japan under the pretext of tourism as visas are not required for temporary visits by Turkish passport holders. Once there, they file for refugee status, citing human right abuses in Turkey — although none has yet received it, according to Japan Times.

Most Kurds are on provisional release from immigration detention centers and during that time they work without contracts and can be laid off without prior warning. They cannot officially rent apartments, open bank accounts or even send their children to school under their own names — a fact that the Japanese government is still refusing to confront fully.

Some asylum seekers, in an effort to circumnavigate this phantom status, borrow the names and personal details of relatives or friends with residency permit, something which is of course illegal.

“We do not exist,” said one Kurdish asylum seeker.

When asked how the refugees are supposed to survive without jobs to pay for food and shelter, Japanese government said their friends, relatives or NGOs should help them out.

However, the ban on official jobs does not prevent the government from using them in a slew of public work projects which are deemed either too dirty or too dangerous for the common Japanese citizen.

They are also not allowed to leave their prefecture without permission. The Japanese authorities granted some of them approval when they needed help after the earthquake and tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011, and some of the Kurds were sent to the worst hit areas for rescue operations.

The strict immigration law and a shrinking Japanese population have also opened venues for black market in labor. Last year, Reuters reported Japanese car maker Subaru was making big bucks, in part because of its use of cheap laborers from Asia and Africa.

Japan is now facing its worst labor shortage in more than twenty years. Yet, the country prides itself on its homogeneity and is reluctant to lower its barriers against immigration.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters last September that he would rather put women and elderly to work first before considering immigration.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Thomas Peter 

View Comments

Recommended For You