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“Welcome to Japan”? Kurdish refugee family leaves for Canada

Categories: East Asia, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Canada, Japan, Turkey, Ethnicity & Race, Humanitarian Response, Law, Migration & Immigration, Politics, Refugees, Youth

Few people outside of Japan are aware of the dismal record of this country's treatment of refugees [1], particularly its treatment of Kurdish refugees [2]. Few Japanese are even aware of policy in this area, given how little it is covered in the mainstream news. And yet Japan stands as most probably the only advanced country in the world not to have accepted a single Kurdish refugee out of hundreds of desperate applicants, despite the persecution Kurds routinely receive in countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

Erdal Dogan and his family have learned first-hand things about Japanese policy [3] that most Japanese people themselves do not themselves even know. Erdal arrived in Japan for the first time in 1999, fleeing ethnic and religious persecution in Turkey. He was joined by his wife Meryem and his brother Deniz in 2000, and his daughter Merve arrived two years later. His son Mehmet was born in Japan.

Erdal's family's application for refugee status was twice refused, and Erdal eventually ended up in detention, his family left to fend for themselves. Desperate and out of options, Erdal went on a 60-day hunger strike in 2003 [4], to little avail.

After many years of hardship, sit-ins, and protests — and after having been repeatedly back-stabbed [5] by a government they originally hoped would help them — the Dogan family finally received some good news early this year: their application for refugee status in Canada was accepted [3].

Dogan Family [6]
The Dogan Family at Narita airport – photo by Shu Kaori/周香織

Blogger Shu Kaori [7] is a photographer and longtime supporter of the Dogan family. She has published a book about the family [8], with a focus on the daughter Merve Dogan, entitled My neighboring friend, Little Merve – Two Kurdish refugee families I met. In her blog post on July 10th, she described her experience [6] seeing the Dogan family off at Narita airport:

今日はエルダルさん一家がカナダに旅立つ日です。

Today is the day that Erdal's family will set off for Canada.

お仕事は半休を頂いて、午後は成田空港までエルダルさんたちのお見送りに行ってきました。
「YOKOSO!JAPAN (ようこそ!日本)」のロゴがあちこちに貼ってある空港の中を、出発ロビーに向かいました。
30人ほどの支援者がエルダルさんたちを囲み、ロビーで別れを惜しんでいました。TBSさんと日本テレビさんも取材に来て下さいました。

I had a half-day off from work, and in the afternoon I went to Narita airport to see Erdal and his family off.
I headed to the lobby of the airport, where “YOKOSO! JAPAN” [Welcome to Japan!] logos were posted all over the place.
Over 30 supporters surrounded Erdal in the lobby, saying their sad goodbyes. Crews from TBS and Nippon Television had also come to cover the event.

お別れの時間が近づくと、エルダルさんは見送りにきた人、一人一人にお礼を言い、握手をしていきました。私はちょっと離れてその様子を見ていましたが、今まであったいろいろなことを思い出してきて、隅でだらだら涙を流していると、エルダルさんがやってきて、「泣いてはだめですよ」と声を掛けてくれました。「別に私、泣いてないです」と答えてエルダルさんを見ると、エルダルさんも目が赤くなっていたので「あなたも泣いてるじゃないですか」と言うと「いや、泣いてないですよ」と言ったので、二人でちょっと笑いました。クルドの家族は、私が辛いシーンに立ち会ってめそめそしていると、いつでも「泣いちゃだめですよ」と言って、私を叱咤激励してくれます。

As the departure time approached, Erdal thanked the people who had come to see him off and shook their hands. I was watching all this from a bit further away, remembering the various things that had happened up until that point, and I started crying in the corner [of the room]. Erdal came over and said to me: “Please don't cry.” He said to me: “I'm not crying,” but I looked at him and I could see that his eyes had become red. I said to him: “You are crying too, aren't you?” but he replied: “No, I'm not crying,” and so we both laughed a bit. Whenever I would witness a painful scene and start to cry, the family would always tell me: “Don't cry!” and send me words of encouragement.

「周さん、これからも難民のために頑張ってください」エルダルさんはそう言って、握手をしてくれました。

Erdal said to me: “Shu-san, please don't give up [on your work with] the refugees,” and shook my hand.

搭乗口向かう最後の時、エルダルさんは「皆さん、今まで本当にありがとうございました。皆さんのお陰で、ドーガン一家はカナダで幸せになります。本当にありがとうございました!」と言って、手を振りながらゲートに入っていきました。

Just at the last moment, as he was going to board the plane, Erdal said: “Everybody, thank you so much. Thanks to all of you, the Dogan family will find happiness in Canada. Thank you very very much!” He waved goodbye as he boarded the gate [to the plane].

この空港に貼ってある「ようこそ!日本」とは、一体、誰に向けられた言葉なのか。
お金持ちの観光客か、ビジネスマンか、外国人タレントか。少なくとも、難民には向けられていないと思います。
表面上は豊かで平和な美しい日本。
でもそれはうわべだけのことで、少し中をめくってみれば、難民の人の命懸けの、そしてほんのささやかな願いさえ叶えてくれない、冷たい国だということを知りました。

This banner “Yokoso! Japan” [Welcome to Japan] that you see at the airport, who are these words for?
Rich tourists or business people or foreign talent? In any case I don't think it's for refugees.
A country that seems prosperous and peaceful on the face of it – Japan.
However, this is just a facade. When I dug a little deeper, I saw that refugees were not granted even their simple wishes, wishes upon which their life depends, and I realized that this is a cruel country.

それを気付かせてくれたのは、難民の人たちでした。
ある夏に国連前で座り込みをしたクルド人の家族がいて、それを支援した日本の人たちがいて、そしてその結果、その難民の人たちの運命を少しだけでも良いほうにずらすことができたのは、紛れもない事実です。
私にできることは微々たるものですし、今の難民政策を変えるには、まだ時間がかかると思います。
ですが、その可能性がある限り、私は難民の支援を続けたいと思います。

It was the [plight of the] refugees that made me realize this.
It is an unmistakable fact that there were Kurdish families who sat in front of the UN one summer, and there were Japanese people who supported them, and as a result their fate was improved a bit.
I can only do very little, and I think it will take a long time to change the refugee policy.
However, as long as there is the possibility, I want to continue supporting the refugees.

これからもどうぞよろしくお願い致します。

From here on, I will do what I can.

Erdal’s daughter [6]
Erdal's daughter Merve – photo by Shu Kaori/周香織

Blogger haredasu [9] also wrote about Erdal and his family leaving Japan:

 どうしてですか?

トルコで難民として迫害を受け、救いを求めて、
日本に来てまで、何故こんな仕打ちを受けなければ
いけないのでしょうか?
人道的な問題ではないのでしょうか?

Why?

They were persecuted as refugees in Turkey, sought help, and came to Japan. Why should they still be treated this way?

Isn't this a humanitarian issue?

 結局、日本では認定されず、カナダが難民として認定。
日本にはいられず、知る人が誰もいない、言葉も話せないかも
知れない、カナダに渡って行きました。

日本は、好きなのに、、でも、と、言いながら、

この人たちは、今後、日本について、どう思うようになるので
しょうか?

After all, Japan did not recognize them as refugees but Canada recognized them as refugees.

They could not remain in Japan, and they left for Canada, where they don't know anyone and they may not know the language.

They left, saying “we liked Japan…but…”.

What will they think about Japan in the future?

 国際化とか、国際貢献とか、
日本政府の人たちは、どう考えているのでしょうか?

すごく考えさせられました。

難民問題については、恥ずかしいことですが、
よく知りませんでした。

About [Japan's] internationalization or international contribution,
what do the Japanese government officials think about these things?

This made me think.

It is a shame that I don't know much about these refugee issues.

 このニュースを見ていて思ったことは、
なんと、日本という国は、冷たい国、
世界に対して、恥ずかしい国だったのかと、

どうしてこんなことができるのかと思う。

恥ずかしい限りです。

What I was thinking as I watched the news is how cold and shameful this country Japan is, in the eyes of the world, that it could do something like this.

I am just so ashamed.