Burmese footballer Pyae Lyan Aung obtains asylum in Japan

TOKYO – A Myanmar professional footballer who publicly opposed the military junta that staged a coup in his country was granted asylum i...

TOKYO – A Myanmar professional footballer 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 notoriety unwelcoming immigration system.

The athlete, Ko Pyae Lyan Aung, came to Japan with Burmathe national team for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Asia this year. While on the pitch before the first game, he gave a three-fingered salute – a gesture made popular by the movie “The Hunger Games” and which has become a sign of resistance in his home country.

His small protest sparked intense media coverage that put him in the national spotlight. The gesture also raised concerns that his life would be in danger if he returned home. Shortly before boarding a return flight, he sought asylum from Japanese immigration officials at passport control, betting that it was better to try his luck with the Japanese system than to forgive the junta, which has brutally crushed the opposition since its coup on February 1.

Japan accepts less than 1% of asylum seekers each year and only approved 47 asylum claims last year. The system came under fierce criticism after the death of a Sri Lankan migrant in a holding cell. The case of Mr. Pyae Lyan Aung has also drawn attention to the reluctance of the Japanese government to take a firm stand against the junta’s actions in Myanmar. While Japanese officials denounced the military’s actions, they refused to join the United States and other countries in enforcing sanctions. Over 1,000 people died at the hands of Burmese security forces, according to a tally kept by a watchdog group following the killings. Thousands are in custody.

However, Japan has allowed people from Myanmar to apply for visas on a provisional basis. Mr. Pyae Lyan Aung received a certificate attesting to his asylum status from the Osaka Regional Immigration Office on Friday.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, he thanked Japan for approving his asylum claim and said he had found a job at a third-tier Japanese football club in the port city of Yokohama and that he would seek additional work to support himself.

“Now that I have obtained residency status, I can live worry-free here in Japan,” he said, adding that he had not given up on his dream of becoming a full-time professional.

Mr. Pyae Lyan Aung’s lawyer Yoshihiro Sorano praised the Japanese government for its decision, but noted that there were still many more Myanmar people in Japan who could face political persecution if they were going home.

“It is Japan’s duty to think about a way for Myanmar to build a society that does not produce refugees,” he said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Burmese footballer Pyae Lyan Aung obtains asylum in Japan
Burmese footballer Pyae Lyan Aung obtains asylum in Japan
Newsrust - US Top News
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