Japan Protects Belarusian Athlete, but Rejects Most Refugees

It is interesting to know that the most melodramatic drama in Japan, this time at Haneda Airport, is opposed to the expectation from the Tokyo Summer Olympics!

Belarusian sprinter Krystina Tsimanouskaya shared that she was forcibly taken there against her will after publicly criticizing Belarusian Olympic officials online. Under the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko, she was returned to Belarus to face the consequences.

Belarus athlete Krystina Tsimanouskaya said goodbye as she boards a plane at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo on Aug. 4, 2021. After traveling from the Polish embassy, she had spent the past two nights owing to the claims that her team tried to force her to return home after she criticized her coaches during the Tokyo Olympic Games.Regarding this, she made an appeal to the airport police and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and a standoff ensued. She spent a night at an airport hotel, and then she was brought to the Polish Embassy in Tokyo, where she was granted a humanitarian visa. Later she flew to Warsaw on Wednesday.The Belarusian case that gained a lot of attention all across the world is an example of the opposite of how Japan treats thousands of refugee applicants who come to the nation that comprises 126 million people belonging to impoverished or strife-torn countries. The result is that they are just turned away or face years in a legal case.

In reality, Refugees are looked upon as a threat to society!

A photo of protestors with banners and shouting slogans. They moved towards the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau building, where several foreign nationals are detained, on June 20, 2021, in Tokyo.

As per records in the year 2020, Japan had given refugee status to only 47 people out of around 4000 applicants. Out of that, another set of 44 applicants were provided special residence permits on humanitarian grounds. This was done as per Ministry of Justice data. Well, the 47 number was a 10-year high because, in the year 2013, Japan accepted only just six refugees, and then in 2014, only 11!This policy regarding refugees in Japan stays undeterred even though they do need a workforce and despite millions of homes lying abandoned with no takers! These problems in Japan stems from the country’s aging population and low birth rates. It is now known as a significant threat in Japan which is the world’s third-largest economy.

The government of Japan is somewhat restricting the entry of refugees in Japan rather than accepting them on a humanitarian basis, as stated by Teppei Kasai, a Tokyo-based program officer at Human Rights Watch. According to him, the government believes that many of these refugees are cheats as they lie about their situation to get into the country. They think that such kind of people is instead a threat to the Japanese society.”Gloria Nkechi Onyakweli is a person who felt the same. She came into Japan with a fake passport after running away from Nigeria in December 2006. She did this because she feared that the government security forces were seeking to be part of a group calling for self-declaration for the Igbo people in Japan’s Biafra region. Sadly her fianc√© was also shot and lost his life two months later!

What Japan did in her case was that they rejected Gloria Nkechi Onyakweli’s refugee applications many times. They also then detained her for 30 months. During this tenure, as reported by Gloria Nkechi Onyakweli, she was physically abused during a struggle with the guards who restrained her. She further shared that many of her friends, who were also refugee applicants, actually died due to poor health conditions owing to the detention they faced. That’s indeed really sad!Another shocking incident is of a Sri Lankan woman, Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali. In March, she died in an immigration facility in Nagoya. She was complaining about her stomach ailment since January and finally died in March due to no medication and proper care; these incidents are evidence of the cruelty of Japan’s immigration and refugee system.

Another incident is about Onyekweli, who was poor and lived in Kanagawa Prefecture outside Tokyo. She survived based on the donations received from a church group and the cleaning work that was received occasionally. She said that her viewpoint was that Japan would protect her, which was the main reason he stayed in Japan. However, my life did not move for an extended period of 14 years with no marriage, no child, and no education. She shared that if Japan had come forward to give her education, she could have done more in life and would be thankful to the country for the same.Finally, she was granted refugee status, but you will be surprised to know that it was Canada and not Japan! Owing to the crowdfunding effort initiated and led by Canadians, she flew to British Columbia in late July. There she began her new life in a small town. It’s great to know that she is now working towards getting herself trained as a healthcare worker from September.

A long history of asylum claims at the Olympics

In the long line of athletes who have claimed asylum at major international sporting events, Tsimanouskaya is the latest. The interesting fact about him is that this 24-year-old was pushed out from the Games to face possible reprisals in Belarus. Belarus is a former Soviet state where mass protest happened due to fraud in the presidential election that occurred a year ago. This brings back the memories of other Olympics defections.It was astonishing that about half of Hungary’s Olympic delegation defected following the Melbourne Olympics in 91956. This occurred in the aftermath of hearing about the Soviet invasion of Budapest. The truth is that around 21 to 26 athletes and coaches went missing at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, each that was a sporting event of U.K. nations and former British colonies. This also happened at the London Olympics of 2012, when about 82 athletes, coaches, and delegates applied for asylum from countries including Sudan and Somalia.

Well, it is essential to understand that Tsimanouskaya was not the first athlete in Japan this year who tried to run from their home country!Tsimanouskaya is the latest last month, was granted a six-month visa by Japan. He had actually applied for refugee status after sharing his solidarity with the anti-coup protest movement during a World Cup qualifying match in Japan in June. The approval was when the government had passed a rule not to deport Myanmar citizens from being deported in between the military government’s violent reprisals against protesters.Julius Ssekitoleko is a Ugandan weight lifted went missing from his training camp in Osaka Prefecture before the Olympics began. It is believed that he left a note saying he had gone in search of work. Well, he was actually found five days later when he returned to Uganda, where police detained him to face fraud charges!It has been observed that the Japanese government has displayed conflicting signs on its refugee policy from now on. Last spring, the parliament was debating on a bill that would permit the country to deport foreigners who had applied for refugee status but rejected three times. However, the revision of the policy was stopped as a result of an outcry in the media.

It has been reported that Japan’s immigration agency has signed a memorandum of cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in July. This has pushed Japan to help more asylum seekers to improve its refugee system. Well, the objective is the make the system more fair, transparent and efficient. This was shared by Yuki Moriya, who is an associate communications officer at UNHCR in Japan.People watching this aren’t holding their breath. Shogo Watanabe, a Tokyo lawyer who works on human rights issues, shared that the UNHCR standards are only the adoption internationally accepted. He further stated that the inability of Japan to do this straightforward only signifies their unwillingness to get them!For Onyekweli, well, any kind of changes will come as too little, too late. When she left her hotel in Vancouver, where she was completing her quarantine period, she happily shared that she was actually relieved to leave Japan. She specifically stated that “All the fear and sleepless nights and being afraid of tomorrow and returning to detention. I want to give back to the society that is giving a lot to me.”

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