Posted on January 20, 2005

Japan Defies U.N., Deports Refugees

Masami Ito, Japan Times, January 19, 2005

Acting with uncharacteristic speed, the Justice Ministry bundled a Kurdish father and his son, both U.N.-recognized refugees, onto a plane and sent them back to Turkey on Tuesday, a day after they visited the Immigration Bureau to extend their provisional release.

Cries and screams broke out in a room at the Tokyo Bar Association as the message came through that Ahmet Kazankiran, 48, and his eldest son, Ramazan, 20, had been forced onto the plane. The news was received during a press conference held by the remaining members of the deportees’ family and another Kurd family facing deportation, and supporters and one of their lawyers.

The pair won recognition last summer during a sit-in outside United Nations University to protest their plight.

On Monday morning, the father and son reported to the Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa Ward to apply for an extension to their provisional release. Before noon, it was announced that the two were being detained. The next day, they were deported.

“My family has been obeying the law and has been going to the Immigration Bureau,” said Zeliha, 21, Ahmet’s oldest daughter. “We just wanted to protect our lives. How could we be the object of such horrible treatment?”

Kazankiran took part in protest demonstrations in Turkey to stop discrimination against minority Kurds and was once arrested and tortured, his supporters said.

It is extremely rare for anyone to be deported so soon after detention, said Takeshi Ohashi, the lawyer present at the briefing.

“I am angered by the way (Ahmet and Ramazan) were deported,” he said, decrying Japan’s apparent lack of a human rights standard.

In Japan, very few asylum-seekers are granted refugee status, with only 26 people, including those granted special residence permits, in 2003.

The Kazankirans and Erdal Dogan and his family, also Kurdish asylum-seekers, together staged the two-month sit-in. The remaining 10 members of the two families face imminent deportation.

The two families arrived in Japan during the 1990s, and have since been seeking asylum due to concerns that they might be persecuted back home. They have been repeatedly turned down.

Immigration authorities have issued deportation orders for all of them. But they were spared detention under a provisional release.

The Kazankirans’ appeal to have their deportation orders nullified is still pending before the Supreme Court.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized the Kazankirans as “mandate refugees.”

By deporting Ahmet and Ramazan, the Justice Ministry has defied the U.N.’s position on the matter, lawyer Ohashi said.

The Justice Ministry says a UNHCR decree is not legally binding. But UNHCR senior legal officer Nathalie Karsenty said she had never heard of anyone being deported to their home country after being acknowledged as mandate refugees by the U.N.

“It is of great concern not only for the two (who) were deported but for the others in a similar situation,” Karsenty said.

Just last month, supporters of the Kazankirans and the Dogans handed to the Justice Ministry a petition containing more than 63,000 signatures backing their bid for asylum.

Fumio Azuma, one of the leaders of the support group and a teacher at a high school attended by Kazankiran’s two other daughters, Hatice, 17, and Mercan, 16, expressed shock that the government did not send the pair to a third country instead of Turkey.

“After this, how will the girls look upon Japan?” he asked. “I like the Japanese culture and wanted to be proud of it. I wanted to show the girls that while the government may be hopeless, there are people who were willing to take action” for them.

The five remaining members of the Kazankiran family are due to report to the Immigration Bureau on Monday to apply for extensions on their provisional release.

Karsenty said the UNHCR will monitor Ahmet and Ramazan’s return to Turkey.

A senior official of the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau defended the deportation, claiming the action means the ministry and the courts have concluded that the pair are not in any danger of persecution in their home country.

The official also said the conditions under which the UNHCR gives a refugee mandate differs from the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Japan follows.

Therefore, UNHCR mandate refugees are not necessarily recognized as refugees under the convention, she added.

The quick day procedure from detention to deportation is not exceptional, the Immigration Bureau official claimed, explaining that deportation orders had already been issued and the law states that deportees must be sent back to their home country as soon as possible once the orders are issued.

The official also said that because deportation orders have been issued for the rest of the Kazankirans as well, the family will be united once again “if they are going to be sent to the same country” as Ahmet and Ramazan.