RVISION June 19, 2015

On just two hours of sleep, a nervous Aung Aung went through the now-familiar ritual of traveling from Gunma Prefecture to Tokyo to hear strangers decide if he had any future in Japan.

Constantly fearing detainment, Aung, 38, knew that any misstep in procedure or suspicion raised could result in immigration officials revoking his provisional status, which comes with a variety of restrictions but at least allows him to remain in the country.

“Today was OK, but I have been living here for eight years now always worrying,” he said, after his provisional status was renewed.

But for Aung and about 200 other members of the Rohingya ethnic group who live quietly in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, another development is causing concerns.

Reports continue to come in about thousands of Rohingya floating on boats off the coast of Southeast Asian nations.

The government in Myannmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, does not recognize the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, as an ethnic group. Many Rohingya have fled the country, fearing persecution.

“My relatives or friends may be among those in the boats,” said Muhamat Adula, a 34-year-old Rohingya living in Tatebayashi. “I want to go where they are to help, but I cannot do even that.”

Those living in Tatebayashi came to Japan believing a better life awaited them in the world’s third largest economy.

However, like thousands of other foreign nationals who have come to Japan over the years seeking refugee status, the Rohingya have found no welcome mat.

According to the Justice Ministry, about 5,000 individuals in 2014 applied for refugee status, an increase of 1,740 over 2013. However, only 11 applicants were granted refugee status in 2014.

Aung is among the Rohingya living in Tatebayashi who are still waiting for a government decision on their applications for refugee status.

At the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau located in Minato Ward on June 8, Aung was asked a bunch of questions, including if he had been called for an interview to obtain refugee status. But no problems emerged, so his provisional release status was renewed.

That status is given to individuals who would ordinarily be detained in immigration facilities for staying illegally in Japan but are allowed temporary release.

Conditions are attached to the status, such as the three-month renewal procedure as well as a ban on moving outside of Gunma Prefecture without prior approval.

The status also prevents Aung from working or joining the national health insurance program.

Aung has relatives still living in Yangon. “I am very ashamed that I cannot help them,” he said. “I really want to see them again.”

Before fleeing to Japan in 2006, Aung said Myanmar authorities detained him in connection with an explosion that he had no part in. He said he was questioned by authorities on a daily basis and physically abused.

The Myanmar government would not issue Aung a passport, so he used a fake one to enter Japan. That led to a one-year detention in an immigration facility.

Tatebayashi, which has a mosque for Rohingya, is now home to about 200 of the 230 or so Rohingya living in Japan.

Many of those who came to Tatebayashi heard about a Rohingya who runs his own company there.

While some have obtained a visa status allowing them to work in Japan, many are stuck in the same predicament as Aung and only have the provisional release status.

“We cannot work, go to the hospital or move about freely,” Muhamat said. “Japan is the same as Myanmar.”

Reports about the fleeing Rohingya have focused the spotlight on their plight.

Thailand has refused to allow the boats to anchor in its ports. The governments of Indonesia and Malaysia have decided to allow the Rohingya to enter for one year, but there is no telling what will happen to them after the end of that period.

An official with a nongovernmental organization in Japan that is involved in refugee issues said about the Rohingya, “This is an Asian issue so Japan should fulfill its role.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has asked the Japanese government for cooperation in accepting refugees from Syria. The office on June 18 reported a record high 59.5 million refugees in the world at the end of 2014, an increase of 8.3 million over the course of a year.

The United Nations has declared June 20 World Refugee Day.

Note:Changes have been made,The Asahi Shimbun is not responsible for these.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun.