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Rohingya living in Japan calls for Tokyo to recognize attacks on his people as genocide

Aung Tin, vice president of the Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan, is seen in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, on April 6, 2022. (Mainichi/Tetsuya Shoji)

TATEBAYASHI, Gunma -- A Rohingya living in this east Japan city is urging the Japanese government to recognize Myanmar military's attacks against the Muslim ethnic minority group as genocide and review its strict refugee policies.

    Aung Tin, vice president of the Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan, recently spoke with the Mainichi Shimbun after the U.S. government in March officially determined Myanmar military's operation against the Rohingya as "genocide" and that it amounts to "crimes against humanity." He said, "Other countries such as Canada and France have already recognized it as genocide. I want the Japanese government to follow suit and help step up international pressure on the (Myanmar) military."

    The Muslim minority group in Myanmar has long been persecuted, and in August 2017 a conflict between the Rohingya militia and the Myanmar security force escalated in the western state of Rakhine, resulting in over a million people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh. Furthermore, in February 2021, the Myanmar military overtook the government in a coup, and many casualties have since been reported amid the military's violence against citizens protesting its actions.

    The refugee camps in Bangladesh to which many Rohingya people escaped remains crowded. Aung Tin, who continues helping the Rohingya people from Japan, explained that it's been difficult to provide education to the children and they can't have hope for the future. He also said fires occur often at the camps and the refugees there get hit by cyclones.

    The Gunma Prefecture city of Tatebayashi where Aung Tin lives and the surrounding areas have the largest Rohingya community in Japan. He says since the coup last year where citizens became subject to the military's brutal oppression, only one Rohingya family of five in Japan has been granted refugee status, and the reality is that many have been waiting for a long time in Japan to be recognized as refugees.

    Meanwhile, the Japanese government has accepted Ukrainian people who wish to flee their country after the Russian invasion. They have been granted visas allowing them to work in Japan for a year, and the government has even prepared temporary accommodations for those Ukrainians who don't have anyone to rely on or any place to go in Japan -- an unprecedentedly flexible response from Tokyo. A number of municipal governments in Gunma Prefecture has also announced their intention to welcome Ukrainians.

    At the same time, Aung Tin expresses concerns over the Japanese government's handling of the cases involving Ukrainians. This is because Tokyo calls those fleeing war-torn Ukraine "evacuees" rather than "refugees," meaning that the latest responses for the Ukrainians could just be an exception.

    Aung Tin is calling for reform of Japan's immigration system, notoriously strict when it comes to recognizing one's refugee status. He commented, "We'll need to work with many others fleeing persecution and conflicts in countries including Ukraine and Afghanistan to appeal (to the Japanese government)."

    (Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Maebashi Bureau)

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