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Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2005

Ministry lashed over asylum seekers' info

Staff writer

The Justice Ministry violated the human rights of nine Turkish Kurds seeking asylum by giving their personal information to the Turkish government last summer, an action that could infringe on their security and freedom, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations warned Monday.

The association issued a warning against the ministry to never again violate asylum seekers' right to confidentiality. Releasing personal information could endanger the applicants' and their families lives, thereby representing a violation of Article 13 of the Constitution, the group said.

According to a report by the association, immigration officials visited Turkey last summer to conduct investigations on nine Kurds seeking asylum. There, various documents including arrest warrants that had been submitted to the Japanese courts by the Kurds as evidence for their bid to seek refugee status were handed over to the Turkish government to confirm their authenticity.

After finding out about this investigation, the nine Kurds filed a complaint in August 2004 with the federation stating the action by the immigration officials violated their human rights.

The investigation "is indeed a serious human rights violation," lawyer Shiro Kawakami, a member of the national association's Office for Human Rights Protection, told a news conference.

"It is common sense even by international standards that submitting personal information (of people seeking asylum) to the country from which they fled in fear of persecution will only increase the danger."

Lawyer Takeshi Ohashi, who represents Kurds seeking asylum, stressed the issue is not limited to the nine Kurds and is a grave concern for all people seeking asylum in Japan.

"This investigation could lead to the collapse of Japan's refugee recognition system," Ohashi told The Japan Times. "Future applicants may stop seeking asylum in Japan if there is a possibility (the Immigration Bureau) might hand over information to the country from which they are in fear of persecution."

Ohashi said he welcomes this action, as issuing a warning is the heaviest admonition the Japan Federation of Bar Associations can hand down.

One of the Kurds who filed the complaint said his family still in Turkey suffered various consequences due to the investigation -- an older brother had to flee his hometown and settle elsewhere, and his parents were unable to live permanently at their home for more than a year, staying with various friends and relatives.

"The investigation put my whole family in danger," he said. "If (my family and I ) are deported, it is not just us, but also my remaining family members in Turkey who are in danger of persecution."

In receiving the association's warning, an official at the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau said that the investigation was appropriate and lawful.

"Such investigations are conducted after careful and comprehensive consideration of each personal case, the situation of the country of origin and the international state of affairs," he said.

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The Japan Times

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