Ministry of Justice
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8977
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8919
Re: Rohingya Asylum Seekers from Burma and Japan's foreign policy on Burma
Dear Justice Minister and Foreign Minister,
We write to you urging prompt protection for Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma. Several aspects of Japan's current policy on refugee protection fail to meet international standards, and therefore are in need of revision.
Burma's ethnic Rohingya "boat people" gained the attention of international and domestic media and policy makers after images of emaciated Rohingya arriving in Thailand and Indonesia by boat were captured on camera in early 2009. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority primarily residing in Western Arakan State, and speak a dialect distinct from Burmese and Bengali. For many years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled repression by the Burmese military government to countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and in the Middle East. Some have also come to Japan.
Amidst rampant human rights abuses in Burma, the Rohingya have for decades borne the brunt of one of the most inhumane policies and campaigns by the military government. The Burmese government denies them citizenship, rendering the majority of Rohingya stateless. The military government launched several "ethnic cleansing" campaigns, particularly in 1978 and 1991, killing many in the process of expelling Rohingya to Bangladesh, where many also died from starvation and disease. In Burma, the Rohingya face brutal religious repression, forced labor and expropriation of property, and are often denied employment opportunities and access to education and trade.
Over the period of past decade, more than 110 Rohingya have made their way to Japan, mainly by air, and petitioned the Japanese government for asylum. While major state parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention have recognized Rohingya asylum seekers as refugees based on the Burmese government's persecution of them, many Rohingya in Japan, to date, have been denied refugee status and some, therefore, are threatened with deportation to Burma. They are prevented from actually being deported, however, because the Burmese government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as its citizens and therefore refuses to accept them back. While we do not have any reports that Rohingya in Japan have been forcibly repatriated to Burma, the legal status of those subjected to the deportation orders is very unstable and leaves the threat of deportation hanging over their heads.
The Japanese government detains many Rohingya asylum seekers for more than a year while processing their asylum claims. Even those who are released are extremely vulnerable as many of them are on "temporary release status," which enables the Japanese authorities to detain them at any time. Further, Rohingya asylum seekers face enormous economic challenges; they are barred from work authorization and denied all but limited access to social welfare, including Seikatsuhogo or Hogohi.
In light of these difficulties the Burmese Rohingya asylum seekers are facing in Japan, we urge the Japanese government to promptly take the following steps:
- Don't forcibly return Rohingya to Burma. Rescind deportation orders to Burma and grant Special Residential Permits to the Rohingya, since they face persecution by the Burmese government and deportation is not practically possible because the Burmese government will not accept Rohingya back to the country. The Japanese government should promptly grant Special Residential Permits (such as one-year "Long Residence Permit") to all Rohingya asylum seekers.
- Do not detain Rohingya applying for asylum and grant them work permits and full access to social welfare services including the access to Hogohi or Seikatsu Hogo. Follow the UNHCR Guidelines, which states that as a general rule, asylum seekers should not be detained and detention of asylum seekers may only be permitted under exceptional circumstances.
- Press the Burmese military government to end abuses against the Rohingya and grant them full citizenship rights.
Amnesty International Japan
Arakan Rohingya Organization-Japan (JARO)
Lawyers' Group for Burmese Refugee Applicants
Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan
Christian Coalition for Refugee and Migrant Workers <CCRMW>
People's Forum on Burma
Human Rights Watch