03/03/2022, 13.17
JAPAN
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Japanese authorities deny refugee status to Nigerian Christian threatened by Boko Haram

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Gabriel Osaheni Aghedo has lived in Japan for 30 years. Islamic extremists threaten to kill him if he returns home, but the Japanese authorities refuse to recognise Nigeria as a high-risk country. This is why he cannot work and receive medical treatment in Japan. In 2020, only 47 asylum seekers or just 1 per cent had their application accepted.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Gabriel Osaheni Aghedo has lived in Japan for over 30 years, but his right to stay has not yet been recognised by Japanese authorities.

Aghedo, a Christian from Nigeria, first arrived in 1991 and his intentions were to live between the two countries; at least those were his plans until Nigerian Islamists threatened his life.

The group that later morphed into Boko Haram, now known across the world for its killings and kidnappings, issued a decree whereby a self-help book written by Aghedo violated teachings of the Qurʾān. Soon enough, the threats became real.

Published in Japan and distributed in Nigeria through his sister, the book soon led to retaliation from extremists who resorted to violence to intimidate Aghedo’s sister and other members of his family, forcing them into hiding.

Boko Haram even sent a letter to his sister promising to “kill Gabriel when he returns home.”  Yet, for Japanese authorities, Nigeria is a safe country for Gabriel Osaheni Aghedo and his  past asylum requests were rejected on the grounds that he could go back without risk of persecution against his person.

As noted by Bitter Winter, a religious freedom and human rights website, Aghedo is a very active member in the community where he lives in Tokyo, involved in the outreach campaigns sponsored by the Church of St Ignatius to which he had belonged for many years.

Members of the community have launched an online petition to get the Japanese authorities to accept Aghedo’s latest application for refugee status.

The hearing at the regional immigration bureau in Tokyo was scheduled for 8 February, but had to be postponed due to the recent wave of COVID-19 infections.

Japan is known for its very tough laws in this matter. In 2020, 47 or only 1 per cent of applications for refugee status were accepted by Japanese authorities.

The Japanese government has been heavily criticised for its treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, in some cases with tragic consequences.

Last March, a young undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka died in a detention centre after the authorities did not allow her to go to hospital for exams.

The case had a great echo and the UNHCR began discussions with Japan’s Immigration Services Agency to improve the system, but there is still a long way to go.

Precisely for this reason, the petition by Aghedo's supporters urges the authorities, if they won’t grant him refugee status, at least allow him to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds. This would enable him to work and get medical attention, to which he currently has no right.

At present, Aghedo is living in conditions of economic hardship since he lost the limited financial support provided by the Refugee Headquarters after the first ruling.

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