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Refugees slam Japan immigration for leaking info, endangering them.

TOKYO, Aug. 4 Kyodo

Kurdish refugees accused Japanese immigration authorities Wednesday of leaking their personal information to the Turkish government and endangering their status as asylum seekers in Japan in violation of international norms.

''It is unimaginable that such a thing occurred,'' Takeshi Ohashi, part of a group of lawyers working for Kurdish asylum seekers, told reporters.

''And we feel a sense of despair that the immigration officials, from whom the refugees are seeking help, would be the ones to put them in danger,'' he said.

Ohashi was referring to a report by the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau that said two Japanese immigration officers went to Turkey from late June to early July to investigate at least 14 Kurdish asylum seekers with Turkish citizenship.

Ohashi obtained the report as the immigration officials were using it as evidence to support their case against a Kurdish asylum seeker. It was submitted to the Tokyo District Court.

The actions of the immigration officers described in the report came to light after two recent rulings in favor of Kurdish asylum seekers.

Ohashi said the officers revealed the identities of nine asylum seekers to Turkish security authorities and visited the homes of the families of five other asylum seekers together with members of the local police and military.

During the visits to the homes, the Japanese immigration officers questioned the kin about the asylum seekers and their motives for going to Japan, according to Ohashi.

The officers offered the families no explanation as to why they were being questioned, Ohashi said.

''This has never happened to Kurdish asylum seekers in Europe,'' one of the asylum seekers said. ''If this kind of thing happens, no one would want to seek asylum in Japan,'' another said.

The preface to the report says there is a ''need to confirm the veracity of official documents (such as arrest warrants presented by asylum seekers during their refugee status application) directly from the Turkish government entities.''

It also claims there is a need to do so because of speculation that the asylum seekers are really in Japan for ''economic reasons.''

Ohashi criticized the actions as violating confidentiality of information -- a universally accepted practice in connection with refugee applications -- especially since the actions not only endanger the asylum seekers but also members of their families in their homeland.

Separately, Nathalie Karsenty, senior legal officer of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said such actions run ''contrary to international standards.''

Her statements are reflected in a document dated in February by the UNHCR's Department of International Protection which says, ''It is the UNHCR's view that personal data of asylum seekers should in principle not be shared with the country of origin.''

Some Kurdish asylum seekers, who were among the 14 identified in the report, said their families have been visited and questioned by local police after the Japanese investigations.

Shogo Watanabe, a member of a nationwide lawyers' group working for refugees, described the immigration officials' actions as ''the worst-ever situation'' in terms of Japan's history regarding refugees since the country ratified the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1981.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Aug 9, 2004
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