Kurds seeking asylum in Japan face challenges in a nation that prides itself on its homogeneity and runs the tightest refugee recognition system among industrialized economies. Natasha Howitt reports.
Mustafa Colak and his family are seeking asylum in Japan. They are part of a sizeable Kurdish community in this town outside of Tokyo. Most of them are on "provisional release" from an immigration detention centre. They have no identification card or health insurance. Officially, they can't rent an apartment, open a bank account, or enrol in school using their own names. We "don't exist", Colak says. More than a thousand Kurds live in this city outside of Tokyo alone. Some have residency status and they help the others to survive, lending them their names and other details so they can get by. Some manage to find jobs illegally, but they are usually dirty or dangerous -- the ones that many Japanese don't want. Colak says he left his hometown in eastern Turkey 10 years ago after being harassed by Turkish soldiers. His aslyum applications keep being rejected, and though his children were born in Japan, they are not exempt from deportation. Despite Japan facing a shrinking population, and the worst labour shortage in more than two decades, politicians remain reluctant to lower immigration barriers. The country has the tightest refugee recognition system among industrialized economies, and prides itself on its homogenous society. There are currently an estimated 13,000 asylum seekers in the country.