Japan set to return 9 Afghans seeking asylum from Taliban

Nation had pledged at least $1 billion to U.N. to aid such refugees

War On Terrorism

The World

November 09, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

TOKYO - Japan, after pledging more than $1 billion to the United Nations to support the care and feeding of Afghan refugees, is closing its doors to nine Afghan citizens seeking asylum from brutal Taliban rule.

The nine, who separately stole away to Japan by ship or plane after family members had been murdered by Taliban soldiers, were rounded up by immigration authorities Oct. 3 and questioned under the pretense that they might be terrorists.

Now immigration officials insist that the nine, most of them ethnic Hazara who have been persecuted by the Taliban, should be denied asylum and sent back to Afghanistan.

"High officials and bureaucrats simply believe that Japanese people harbor racism against foreigners," complained Kensuke Ohnuki, attorney for the Afghans, in an interview Wednesday. "They think accepting refugees is contrary to the people's will."

Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama told the Japanese parliament, or Diet, that all Afghans seeking asylum in the country would be deported once the war in Afghanistan is over. Immigration officials said the men would not be eligible for asylum.

"Immigration officers have told us they intend to deport all nine and will keep them in detention centers until the war ends, whether it's one year or 10," Ohnuki said.

Japan seldom gives asylum to those seeking to remain. Ministry statistics show that between 1994 and 1998, the most recent period for which data is available, 12 out of 598 people asking for asylum were allowed to stay.

The situation is vastly different, however, for those who claim Japanese ethnic ancestry. Earlier this year, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, wanted for trial in his country on corruption charges, was granted Japanese citizenship in only a few weeks' time.

Fujimori was born in Peru of Japanese parents, and his parents registered his birth with the Japanese Embassy. Now that Fujimori has gained citizenship, he cannot be extradited to face charges in Lima because Japan refuses to hand over Japanese citizens to other nations.

The Afghans, ranging in age from late teens to early 40s, crossed the border into Pakistan, found their way onto cargo vessels bound for South Korea and eventually came ashore in Japan. Most of the men are from Kabul, but some are from the southern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

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