Japan's tiny refugee community urges Tokyo to open doors wider

November 29, 2015 08:20
1 minute read.


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YOKOHAMA - Hitoshi Kino, a bespectacled clerical employee at a university near Tokyo, doesn't stand out.

Only a slight Vietnamese accent betrays his past, as he speaks in Japanese about being stranded on a rickety boat in waters off his war-torn homeland in 1980, starving with 32 others and left by pirates with nothing but his underpants.

Kino, who was then Ky Tu Duong, is one of more than 11,000 refugees that Japan took in over the three decades to 2005 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, under a little-remembered open-door policy which has never been repeated on such a scale.

Now, Kino and other "boat people" who have resettled in Japan believe Tokyo should again open its doors and let in some of today's asylum seekers, including those from Syria, not just for those in distress but for Japan's sake as well

"Japan should open up a little to them to align itself with the international community," Kino, who became a Japanese citizen in mid-1980s, said over Chinese dumplings and stir-fry at a restaurant near his home west of Tokyo.

"It could be just 100, or 50. But it would be better than doing nothing."

Japan took just 11 of 5,000 asylum-seekers last year, or 0.2 percent, the lowest acceptance rate in the club of rich nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In contrast, France took 22 percent and Germany 42 percent.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has offered nearly $2 billion to help other nations manage the flood of refugees from Syria's civil war, but his government has virtually shut the door on those fleeing Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War Two.

This month's attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed in mass shootings and suicide bombings blamed on Islamic State, could make any public discussion of accepting refugees into Japan even more difficult.

The government's reluctance to accept refugees shows that opening up to immigration is still politically unpalatable, despite an alarming shrinkage in the country's population.

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