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Kurdish bride in Saitama longs for refugee status to lead safe, happy life

Meryem Dogan, a 17-year-old bride, dances to music as she is celebrated by fellow Kurdish residents in Japan during a wedding reception at a public facility in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. (Mainichi/ Yuki Miyatake)

KAWAGUCHI, Saitama -- At a wedding reception recently held in a banquet room of a public facility here, the 17-year-old Kurdish bride shed tears as she was celebrated by some 200 guests including fellow Kurds seeking refugee status here in Japan.

"I was never able to lead a safe and free life until I came to Japan. I wish I could continue to spend a happy time like this," Meryem Dogan, the bride, said.

She was subject to harassment in Turkey, where Kurdish people are persecuted for seeking independence from the country. She fled to Japan along with her parents two years ago using a visa waiver system, but they have not been granted refugee status yet.

At the wedding reception, guests were treated to cakes, sweets and drinks that were prepared with money chipped in by some participants, and enjoyed dancing hand in hand to music, as they celebrated Dogan and her groom, a man from Turkey she met in Japan.

According to the Japan Kurdish Cultural Association, about 1,500 of the roughly 2,000 Kurds seeking refugee status in Japan are living in the cities of Kawaguchi and Warabi in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. Hence the area has been nicknamed "Warabistan" after Kurdistan.

Last year, the number of applicants for refugee status in Japan reached a record high of 19,629, but only 20 of them were granted such recognition, according to the Justice Ministry. Not a single Kurd was included in the 20, a fact attributed to Japan's friendly ties with Turkey.

The plight of Kurds, who are often described as the world's largest ethnic group without a country, continues here in Japan.

(Japanese original by Yuki Miyatake, Photo Group)

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