by Hanako Tokita
Few people outside of Japan are aware of the dismal record of this country's treatment of refugees, particularly its treatment of Kurdish refugees. Few Japanese are even aware of policy in this area, given how little it is covered in the mainstream news. And yet Japan stands as most probably the only advanced country in the world not to have accepted a single Kurdish refugee out of hundreds of desperate applicants, despite the persecution Kurds routinely receive in countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.
Erdal Dogan and his family have learned first-hand things about Japanese policy that most Japanese people themselves do not themselves even know. Erdal arrived in Japan for the first time in 1999, fleeing ethnic and religious persecution in Turkey. He was joined by his wife Meryem and his brother Deniz in 2000, and his daughter Merve arrived two years later. His son Mehmet was born in Japan.
Erdal's family's application for refugee status was twice refused, and Erdal eventually ended up in detention, his family left to fend for themselves. Desperate and out of options, Erdal went on a 60-day hunger strike in 2003, to little avail.
After many years of hardship, sit-ins, and protests -- and after having been repeatedly back-stabbed by a government they originally hoped would help them -- the Dogan family finally received some good news this month: their application for refugee status in Canada was accepted.
The Dogan Family at Narita airport - photo by Shu Kaori/周香織
Blogger Shu Kaori is a photographer and longtime supporter of the Dogan family. She has published a book about the family, with a focus on the daughter Merve Dogan, entitled My neighboring friend, Little Merve - Two Kurdish refugee families I met. In her blog post on July 10th, she described her experience seeing the Dogan family off at Narita airport:
Today is the day that Erdal's family will set off for Canada.
I had a half-day off from work, and in the afternoon I went to Narita airport to see --- and his family off.
I headed to the lobby of the airport, where "YOKOSO! JAPAN" [Welcome to Japan!] logos were posted all over the place.
Over 30 supporters surrounded Erdal in the lobby, saying their sad goodbyes. Crews from TBS and Nippon Television had also come to cover the event.
As the departure time approached, the people who had come to see Erdal off thanked him and shook his hand. I was watching all this from a bit further away, remembering the various things that had happened up until that point, and I started crying in the corner [of the room]. Erdal came over and said to me: "Please don't cry." He said to me: "I'm not crying," but I looked at him and I could see that his eyes had become red. I said to him: "You are crying too, aren't you?" but he replied: "No, I'm not crying," and so we both laughed a bit. Whenever I would witness a painful scene and start to cry, the family would always tell me: "Don't cry!" and send me words of encouragement.
Erdal said to me: "Shu-san, please don't give up [on your work with] the refugees," and shook my hand.
Just at the last moment, as he was going to board the plane, Erdal said: "Everybody, thank you so much. Thanks to all of you, the Dogan family will find happiness in Canada. Thank you very very much!" He waved goodbye as he boarded the gate [to the plane].
This banner "Yokoso! Japan" [Welcome to Japan] that you see at the airport, who are these words for?
Rich tourists or business people or foreign talent? In any case I don't think it's for refugees.
A country that seems prosperous and peaceful on the face of it - Japan.
However, this is just a facade. When I dug a little deeper, I saw that refugees were not granted even their simple wishes, wishes upon which their life depends, and I realized that this is a cruel country.
It was the [plight of the] refugees that made me realize this.
It is an unmistakable fact that there were Kurdish families who sat in front of the UN one summer, and there were Japanese people who supported them, and as a result their fate was improved a bit.
I can only do very little, and I think it will take a long time to change the refugee policy.
However, as long as there is the possibility, I want to continue supporting the refugees.
From here on, I will do what I can.
Erdal's daughter Merve - photo by Shu Kaori/周香織
Blogger haredasu writes about Erdal and his family:
They were persecuted as refugees in Turkey, sought help, and came to Japan. Why should they still be treated this way?
Isn't this a humanitarian issue?
After all, Japan did not recognize them as refugees but Canada recognized them as refugees.
They could not remain in Japan, and they left for Canada, where they don't know anyone and they may not know the language.
They left, saying "we liked Japan...but...".
What will they think about Japan in the future?
About [Japan's] internationalization or international contribution,
what do the Japanese government officials think about these things?
This made me think.
It is a shame that I don't know much about these refugee issues.
What I was thinking as I watched the news is how cold and shameful this country Japan is, in the eyes of the world, that it could do something like this.
I am just so ashamed.
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