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Kurdish asylum seeker 'not treated like human being' by Japan immigration

Mehmet Colak speaks during a June 24, 2019 news conference in Tokyo's Minato Ward. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)

TOKYO -- "I was not treated like a human being."

That is how 39-year-old Kurdish refugee claimant Mehmet Colak described his treatment at the hands of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau to reporters at a June 24 news conference here, just a week after his provisional release following a year and five months at a bureau detention facility. He was accompanied by people including his attorney.

Colak's case sparked a swell of support and was even brought up during Diet debate after an incident in March 2018 when immigration bureau staff refused to send him to hospital when he fell very ill.

According to Colak, who is originally from Turkey, he was moved to a video-monitored solitary confinement cell on March 12 after complaining of head and chest pains the day before. He was not seen by a doctor, and staff turned away an ambulance sent to the detention center by Colak's family after he contacted them by phone.

"I told the immigration officers I was feeling sick, but they just said, 'You're still alive, aren't you?'" Colak told the press conference.

Colak, his wife and three sons have had their application for refugee status rejected by Japanese immigration authorities multiple times, and they have been issued deportation orders. They were granted "provisional release" -- a stay on deportation -- but Colak was detained in January 2018 when the family visited the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau to have this status renewed.

Of the nearly year and a half he spent in detention, Colak said, "Having my family broken up like that was very painful. I was never given an explanation for why I was being locked up for so long, or why I've been granted provisional release. I still don't know."

"There are still people inside (the detention center) who are suffering," he continued. "I want long-term detentions to be abolished."

Colak's 37-year-old wife told reporters, "I went to meet him almost every day when he was in detention. When I got home, I would tell the children, 'Your papa is all right.' I had to lie to them, and that hurt."

"We are refugees. I want Japanese people to know that we have done nothing wrong," she added.

Colak says he was a victim of persecution in Turkey, and the family decided to flee to Japan, relying on relatives who were already here. Colak went ahead, entering Japan in 2004, followed by his wife and then only son in 2006.

The family is a part of a larger group of Kurds suing the Japanese government in the Tokyo District Court, seeking special permission to stay in the country."

(Japanese original by Jun Ida, Integrated Digital Reporting Center)

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