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Bleak prospects for Rohingya refugee in Japan

To keep expenses at a minimum, a Rohingya man lives in a small room measuring about six tatami mats. Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun

By Daisuke Tomita, 
The Yomiuri Shimbun
September 03, 2013 

Since the
beginning of Myanmar’s democratization in 2011, the nation has attracted
investment from all over the world and has been dubbed “the last Asian
frontier.”
In April,
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the nation’s largest opposition party, visited
Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned the favor the following month to
promote deepening bilateral ties. It was the first visit to Myanmar by a Japanese
prime minister in 36 years.
Under
oppressive military rule, more than 3,000 people are estimated to have fled
Myanmar to seek refuge in Japan. While some were able to temporarily return
home, about 200 have been deprived of their nationality and forced to live a
rootless life. These people are known as the Rohingya.
The
Rohingya are a minority who practice Islam and primarily live in Rakhine State,
western Myanmar, near the border with Bangladesh. While 800,000 were estimated
to be living in the nation, at least 500,000 have fled to escape persecution
after the government enforced a law in 1982 that stripped them of their
nationality, and limited their movement, ability to marry and other basic
rights.
One such
Rohingya man is currently living in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture.
“Abudullah” is 42 years old and in August 1988, he participated in
pro-democracy protests in which several thousand of his countrymen were killed.
He was a
high school student when he joined a demonstration in a village in Rakhine
State. Like many other protests, they were put down by the military.
Abudullah’s friend was shot dead, while he was detained for 10 days, during
which he was physically assaulted.
After this
movement, discrimination against Rohingya worsened.
To escape
persecution, Abudullah moved around Malaysia and Indonesia before finally
entering Japan seven years ago with a forged passport.
After his
application for refugee status was rejected twice, he now lives under
provisional release status as he has no nationality and no home country to be
returned to.
He cannot
have a job and is dependent on aid and money provided by a nonprofit
organization to a mosque. When he becomes sick, he cannot visit a doctor as he
lacks the money to pay for health care.
“Why
did I come to Japan?”
“Do
they expect me to steal?”
These are
the things he laments when he meets with associates. Although Abudullah married
and had children in Indonesia, he is alone in Japan. Fearing for his safety, he
was forced to leave them behind as someone reported him as an illegal
immigrant.
His
homeland, which is beginning to plant the seeds of democracy, remains very far
away.
A volunteer
who visited Indonesia in March brought back a letter from his daughter.
“Father,
how are you? I’m already a middle school student. I miss you very much since
you left us when I was a first-grader in primary school. I’ve been waiting for
you for a long, long time.”
Every time
Abudullah tries to read the letter, he cannot finish it.
“I
want to see my family,” he said with a trembling voice, covering his face
with his hands.