TOKYO – Around 40 percent of the 169 people who fled to Japan from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power in August last year have left their new home due to what they say was pressure and a lack of support from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Although Japan has granted refugee status to 98 people, 58 returned to Afghanistan despite the risk of persecution by the Taliban, while seven left for the United States and Britain, according to the evacuees.
The 98 were newly recognized as refugees in August by the Japanese government, in a rare move for a country known for its strict refugee screening policy and poor record of accepting asylum seekers.
They comprised staff members who were working at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul and their family members.
The Taliban returned to power last year after toppling President Ashraf Ghani’s government, following the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from the country after 20 years of war.
With the Taliban targeting those cooperating with the foreign nations that had ties with the former government, the Japanese government stepped in to help Japanese Embassy staff members and workers of the Japan International Cooperation Agency as well as their families.
Between October and December of last year, the ministry provided the embassy staff and their families with lodgings in Tokyo, meals and salaries.
But several of the staff told Kyodo News that they were pressured to leave Japan, having been told that their work contracts would end in late August.
They said ministry staff visited their homes and told them that living in Japan would be difficult and that a decision on whether to stay or leave the country would have to be discussed with their families.
They also said the ministry told them that should they return to Afghanistan, their travel expenses would be shouldered and they would receive a 20 percent salary raise.
Most of the local embassy staff who fled Afghanistan speak English rather than Japanese, making it extremely difficult for them to find work. The public job placement office “Hello Work” said they had only a 1 percent chance of securing work in Japan, according to an evacuee.
Other factors compounded their struggles. Their children were unable to attend school until spring, when Japan’s school year starts, and only spouses and children could be brought to Japan, not other immediate family members such as parents and siblings.
The ministry’s Second Middle East Division has denied encouraging their return to Afghanistan.
“We have supported them for a year, but we cannot continue forever to pay people who are not involved in embassy work,” a division official said.
The ministry also said the return of the Afghans was due to personal reasons.
But one of the evacuees countered that they continued to be pressured by the ministry and that they really did not want to go home.
Six others have remained in Japan but have not applied for refugee status, while the 98 Afghan refugees who remained in Japan have moved outside of Tokyo and were slated to take Japanese classes for six months starting in October, with the support of the Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People.
The latest revelation comes at a time when Japan has drawn attention for its acceptance of more than 1,800 evacuees from Ukraine, one of the conflict areas.