Kurdish Family in Japan Faces Return to Quake-hit Turkey over Visa Issue

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mohammed and his family look at pictures of quake-hit areas in Turkey, in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, on Aug. 8.

SAITAMA — A Kurdish family that came to Japan following a major earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria in February may have to leave the country soon after their short-stay visas expire.

The Saitama Prefecture-based family is increasingly concerned about their future.

Family members say that even if they return home, they have no relatives to rely on in Turkey, where they formerly lived.

According to a support organization and other sources, the visas of several hundred Kurds who came to Japan following the quake are set to expire shortly.

Kurds are an ethnic group that resides in border areas in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, with an estimated population of around 30 million.

Kurds have no independent state and have long been persecuted in their respective countries of residence.

It is thought that about 2,000 Kurds live in Kawaguchi and neighboring Warabi, both in Saitama Prefecture.

Home collapsed

On Feb. 22, about two weeks after the earthquake, 53-year-old Mohammed (not his real name) welcomed his wife and three children to his apartment in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture.

The family apartment in Malatya Province, eastern Turkey, collapsed due to the earthquake on Feb. 6. Other relatives were affected by the quake, too, and the family had nowhere to go, spending nights in a car to stay warm amid the sub-zero temperatures.

Mohammed’s 18-year-old eldest son said his legs still shake when he recalls how he fled the apartment building in his pajamas. The son had been slated to take a university entrance exam in June, but gave up on the idea, realizing there would be nothing for him to do even if he returned home.

The son and three other members of Mohammed’s family entered Japan on a three-month short-stay visa, which is issued for such reasons as visiting relatives. They later successfully applied for a visa extension, but their future prospects remain unclear.

‘Provisional release status’

Mohammed holds “provisional release status,” which refers to an individual who lacks residency status but lives outside an immigration center on an exceptional basis. Mohammed fled from Turkey to Japan in 1998 after being suspected of having cooperated with an antigovernment organization.

The Japanese government does not recognize Mohammed as a refugee. He recently submitted a sixth refugee-recognition application.

The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, which was enacted in June, allows asylum seekers to apply for refugee status twice in principle, meaning Mohammed could be deported to Turkey.

Mohammed borrowed about ¥1.5 million from a friend to fly his family to Japan. However, people who hold provisional release status are not allowed to work in Japan, making it difficult for him to repay his debt. The family’s living expenses are currently being covered by a support organization.

In areas affected by the earthquake, debris removal is slow and many people reportedly live in tents.

“I hope we’re allowed to stay in Japan for the time being, so we can live a safe life,” Mohammed said.

The Warabi-based organization Zainichi Kurdjinto Tomoni (Together with Kurds living in Japan) says that several hundred Kurds came to Japan following the earthquake.

“Sending people back to their countries of residence is problematic from a humanitarian perspective,” said Tatsuhiro Nukui, a representative of the organization. “The Japanese government should consider granting them some kind of special temporary permission to stay here.”