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Japan court ruling granting refugee status to Ugandan lesbian finalized

A Ugandan woman, foreground, hugs her lawyer and rejoices after the court ruling granting her refugee status in Japan was finalized, in Osaka's Suminoe Ward on March 30, 2023. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

OSAKA -- The Osaka District Court ruling granting refugee status to a Ugandan woman who fled to Japan because she feared persecution in her home country for being a lesbian has been finalized after the Japanese government did not file an appeal, the court told the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The Japanese government had to appeal by March 29 if it intended to seek a higher court decision on the suit, filed by the woman in her 30s to demand recognition as a refugee. The Immigration Services Agency of Japan is expected to proceed with recognizing the woman as refugee.

    Maya Kawasaki, a lawyer representing the woman, told the Mainichi, "The court ruling on her refugee status was based on a series of concrete facts, and it is natural that (the Japanese government) has not appealed. I hope the immigration agency will quickly carry out the procedures."

    This is apparently the first case of a sexual minority claiming persecution in their home country being granted refugee status in Japan through a judicial decision.

    The woman arrived in Japan in February 2020 with a passport issued via a broker, but was detained at the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau. She subsequently applied for refugee status, but was denied and then given a deportation order. She is now on temporary release from the immigration detention facility and resides in western Japan's Kansai region.

    The March 15 Osaka District Court ruling pointed out that the woman was arrested in Uganda in 2017 for being a homosexual and injured by a police officer who beat her with a stick. The court revoked the Japanese government's decision to deny her refugee status and deport her, both on the grounds that Uganda has a strongly discriminatory attitude toward homosexuals and that the woman could face persecution if sent back.

    In Uganda, same-sex sexual acts are illegal, and can result in punishments ranging up to life in prison.

    On March 24, Japan's immigration agency released a guidebook for determining refugee status, outlining the points to be considered when judging whether a person is a refugee under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and clearly states that persecuted sexual minorities may be included. According to the immigration agency, there have been at least three cases where sexual minorities were granted refugee status in Japan on the basis of persecution at home.

    Following the finalization of the court decision, the women and her supporters submitted a written request and signatures to the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau on March 30, demanding prompt recognition of her refugee status. According to Kawasaki, who accompanied the group, the immigration official taking the documents said, "We will make every effort to issue recognition as soon as possible."

    (Japanese original by Kosuke Yamamoto, Osaka City News Department)

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