TOKYO – A professional footballer from Myanmar who publicly opposed the military junta that staged a coup in his country was granted asylum in Japan on Friday, a rare development in a country known for its notoriously unwelcome immigration system.
The athlete, Ko Pyae Lyan Aung, came to Japan this year with the Myanmar national team for the World Cup qualifiers in Asia. As he stood on the field for the first game, he waved a three-fingered salute — a gesture popularized by the movie “The Hunger Games” that has become a sign of defiance in his home country.
His small protest led to intense coverage that put him in the national spotlight. The gesture also raised concerns that his life could be in danger if he returned home. Shortly before boarding a return flight, he asked Japanese immigration officials at passport control for asylum, gambling that he was better off with the Japanese system than the forgiveness of the junta, which has brutalized the opposition since the February 1 coup. crushed.
Japan accepts less than 1 percent of asylum seekers each year and only approved 47 asylum applications last year. The system was criticized after the death of a Sri Lankan migrant in a detention cell. The case of Mr Pyae Lyan Aung also drew attention to the Japanese government’s unwillingness to take a firm stance against the junta’s actions in Myanmar. Although Japanese officials have denounced the military’s actions, they have refused to join the United States and other countries in applying sanctions. More than 1,000 people have been killed at the hands of Myanmar security forces, according to a count kept by a monitoring group following the killings. Thousands are trapped.
However, Japan has allowed people from Myanmar to apply for visas on a provisional basis. Mr Pyae Lyan Aung received a certificate of his asylum status from the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau on Friday.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, he thanked Japan for approving his asylum application and said he had found a job at a third-tier Japanese football club in the port city of Yokohama and would be looking for additional work to support himself.
“Now that I have residency status, I can live carefree here in Japan,” he said, adding that he had not given up on his dream of becoming a full-time professional.
Pyae Lyan Aung’s lawyer, Yoshihiro Sorano, praised the Japanese government for its decision, but noted that there were many more people from Myanmar in Japan who could face political persecution if they returned home.
“It is Japan’s duty to devise a way for Myanmar to build a society that does not produce refugees,” he said.