Born as a Burmese in Japan

Tuan Sian Khai
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 171 / June 15th, 2013

My name is Tuan Sian Khai. My parents fled to Japan in 1991 to escape from the fear of persecution because of their anti-government activities. That was why I was born in Japan. I am now a student at Kansei Gakuin University’s School of Policy Studies, studying mainly public policies.

I was born on October 6, 1993, in Seibo Hospital in Shinjuku Ward. My parents did not have visa status at that time. My mother did not even possess an alien registration certificate. When my mother came to Japan, she was robbed of her passport by a broker. Six months later she was able to recover it, but the visa had been replaced by a different one from the one she got when she landed in Japan. When she became pregnant, she could not get a maternity record book from the ward office because she did not have an alien registration certificate. She was asked to register my birth in Shinjuku Ward because I had been born there. My father, who did not know the Japanese language, registered my birth at Shinjuku Ward and brought me up without being aware of any subsequent procedures.

My parents went to the Myanmar Embassy to acquire Myanmar citizenship for me because of their own Myanmar citizenship. They were asked to pay a large sum in taxes. But my parents were having a hard time making their living and refused to pay that amount of unjust taxes. So I was not granted Myanmar citizenship because my parents were involved in any anti-government activities at the time. I got preventive injections but had to pay a large sum of money in a private hospital because I did not have an alien registration certificate. I was unable to receive either free health examinations or free prevention injections in the ward.

When I became old enough to go to kindergarten, my parents could not arrange anything for me, but a close acquaintance of the Chin ethnic group acted as my sponsor so I was able to go to a kindergarten from 1998 to 2000 in Kamata (Ōta Ward). However, I had to take a train from Den’en-Chōfu where we live to the kindergarten near my guardian’s house. After finishing at the kindergarten, I entered a primary school in Shinjuku and got my alien registration certificate, which designated my nationality as “stateless.” In 2004 we applied for refugee status. The Immigration Bureau asked us to change my nationality from stateless to Myanmarese and we went to the ward office as told. Indeed, now “Myanmar” appears as my nationality, but I still have no legal document proving my nationality. That is why I am still a stateless person.

Burmese Tuan Sian KhaiI still do not possess citizenship. I am now a university student but I am very anxious about my future. I cannot answer about who I am. In addition, if my parents return to Myanmar after the situation in Myanmar changes, what should I do? I do not have Myanmar citizenship. Our family may be separated. And when I go abroad to study with a reentry permit and encounter some trouble, where can I seek protection? I do not have anything to prove my Myanmar citizenship at the Myanmar Embassy and my reentry permit does not prove my Japanese citizenship. I will not know what I should do. A refugee (as defined by the Geneva Convention) has a passport and can receive protection from the UN whenever they go anywhere, but I have only a special stay permit due to humanitarian considerations, so I have nothing to guarantee my safety.

I am most anxious about finding a job. Even if I try job hunting, I am not sure whether some company will employ me. My greatest desire is for you Japanese to set up a public organization or a consultation desk to support stateless persons.

I am now a representative of “Meals for Refugees,” providing meals to areas where refugees come from to university cafeterias. This project is to raise awareness among university students about the situation of refugees in Japan by introducing 45 menus in the book Flavors Without Borders published in February by NPO Japan Associations for Refugees. At present three universities in Tokyo and two in Kansai participate in this project and are working together for the World Day for Refugees on June 20.

Nowadays the word “refugee” is overused. For example, nanmin, the Japanese word for refugee, is used for kitaku nanmin (persons in northeast Japan stranded due to the great earthquake or failure of the nuclear power station), net café nanmin (those seeking refuge in internet cafés) or lasik nanmin (persons suffering from failure of LASIK surgery). I’m afraid that more and more young people will not know the real meaning of “refugee.” I strongly desire that people will understand the real meaning and avoid using the term wrongly.

I have a dream. It is to contribute to the construction of a railway system in Myanmar by introducing to my homeland the Japanese railway system, especially the shinkansen bullet train, which I have been fond of since childhood. I think it will take a long time to complete Myanmar’s democratization process, even though it has been hastening toward democratization ever since the transition from military to civilian control. There are ethnic conflicts and civil wars and it will take a lot of time and money to solve these issues. I wish these facts were better known in Japanese society. I would like the Japanese people to know that Myanmar is not yet a peaceful country.

I am now in the second year of the university and will come of age this year. As the second generation of refugees, I would like to contribute to the betterment of Japanese society so that the younger ones who come after us and the next generation of refugees will live with none of the inconveniences we experience.

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