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Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Rohingyas: Searching for a home — Report from Tatebayashi / Driven from birthplace, new life under way

The Rohingyas: Searching for a home — Report from Tatebayashi / Driven from birthplace, new life under way

The Yomiuri ShimbunTATEBAYASHI, Gunma — There are refugees and immigrants who have settled in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. They are Rohingyas, a minority Muslim ethnic group, and they have fled to the city from Myanmar. The Rohingyas are looking to make Japan their final home even though they harbor feelings of homesickness.
What kind of life do they have? How are local residents interacting with them? We take a look at social changes associated with the acceptance of refugees and immigrants through the case of Tatebayashi. This is the first installment of a series on the issue.
“No, no. That line should be longer,” sixth-grader Muhammad Sharul Amin, 12, said. He was teaching his younger second-grade sister Sharifah, 8, how to write the Japanese word “ike” (pond) in kanji. Amin himself then took a notebook out of his school bag and began to study kanji. In the background, their father Syedul, 43, was looking on.
Amin was born in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar and is Rohingya. In December 2004, shortly after his 1st birthday, he was called to Japan by Syedul, for whom Japan had recognized refugee status. Amin came along with his mother Jamila, 30, to Tatebayashi. Amin enjoys soccer and is looking forward to joining a soccer club when he moves on to middle school.
Syedul said when he was a high school student in 1990 he was detained by authorities under Myanmar’s military rule for participating in a movement supporting the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democracy movement in the country.
Passing through Bangladesh and other countries, he fled to Malaysia where he continued to engage in political activities calling for the guarantee of human rights for the Rohingyas. In 2003, he married Jamila. After that, he participated in a demonstration calling for the release of Suu Kyi, who had been detained by the military regime and he was warned by the country’s authorities. He decided to flee to Japan alone.
In August of the same year, he entered Japan on a fake passport. He was placed in custody at an Immigration Bureau facility in Osaka but applied for refugee status, which was approved in October. With some help from other Rohingyas who had settled in Tatebayashi earlier, Syedul began to live in the city.
After Jamila and Amin came to Japan, the couple was blessed with three more children including Sharifah. Syedul works as a temporary employee at a nearby auto parts factory and elsewhere. The life is not so easy, but he said he prefers living in Japan when considering the situation in Myanmar where the Rohingya people face oppression. “In Japan, education and medical care are well developed and my children can grow up without facing discrimination or violence,” he said. “We are lucky.”
Amin speaks Japanese like a native, but from time to time at school, the Rohingya language used by his parents slips out. “Because I’ll live in Japan forever, I have to keep the Rohingya people together when I grow up,” he said. He also attends meetings with Rohingya people in Japan together with Syedul.
“We have nowhere else to go,” Syedul said. “I hope my children will live in this country by joining together with other Rohingya people here and building a good relationship with Japanese people.”
Support at school
At schools in Tatebayashi, both private life and study are taken into consideration so that Rohingya children can fit in with the local community.
For example, a total of 22 non-Japanese students including five Rohingyas attend a Japanese class set up at municipal Daiju Primary School. They range from students in the first grade of primary school to those in the second year of middle school. The levels of their Japanese proficiency vary as they include children who have just arrived and those who have been living in Japan since they were little.
Sixty-one items have been set for learning, such as “Can you tell the time?” Original study materials are handed out for each item and individual tutoring is provided with the help of volunteers.
“When my child was teased for having a different skin color, a school counselor dealt with the situation immediately,” said a Rohingya mother whose children attend a different school, expressing her gratitude. Another father was pleased, saying, “I asked my child’s teacher to offer supplementary lessons and my child became able to keep up with studies.”
Miwa Kurihara, 41, a teacher in charge of the Japanese class at Daiju Primary School, said: “I instruct all of the children, thinking that they are going to choose to live in Japan in the future. I hope they will find good things about both Japan and the communities they had previously lived in and play the role of connecting them.”
Majority of Rohingyas live in the city
There are said to be about 800,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar, primarily in the Rakhine State near the border with Bangladesh. Myanmar has many Buddhists and the government there regards Rohingya people as illegal immigrants, stripping them of their nationality under the nationality law that was passed in 1982. The Rohingyas face discrimination including restrictions on mobility and marriage.
In May, a flurry of migrant smuggling ships carrying Rohingya people came ashore in Indonesia and Malaysia, becoming an international issue. According to a statement released by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on May 19, the number of people, including the Rohingya, who have evacuated from Myanmar and Bangladesh since 2014 amounts to 88,000. In southern Thailand, it is said that human trafficking disguised as smuggling services is rampant.
In light of such circumstances, 17 countries concerned held a special meeting in Bangkok in May to discuss countermeasures. In June, Japan also pledged to provide about ¥400 million in aid through organizations such as UNHCR.
Nevertheless, there are scarce signs of improvement in the domestic situation in Myanmar that is causing the outflow of people. The Rohingyas were not granted the right to vote in the Myanmar general elections held on Nov. 8, and the NLD has gathered major support from them. However, Suu Kyi has not publicly announced her position on problems regarding the Rohingyas.
According to the Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan, about 230 Rohingyas live in Japan, of which 200 are living in Tatebayashi.

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