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Why a Kurdish Man Fled to the US in Search for a Better Life

Investigations uncover Kurdish smuggling from Turkey to the West, revealing economic migration. Japan is also becoming a destination for such economic migrants.

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Japan is attracting attention as a more affordable destination for immigration. Photo: The building housing Japan's Immigration Services Agency. April 25, Chiyoda, Tokyo. (©Kyodo)

Investigations in Europe have uncovered an illegal network charging exorbitant fees to smuggle Kurdish minorities from Turkey to the West. 

These investigations have revealed that Turkish migrants are not solely refugees fleeing persecution by the Turkish government. Among them, many Kurds aiming to relocate to North America and Japan are doing so for economic reasons rather than seeking asylum. All too often, debates in Japan fail to address this emerging reality. 

Seeking Work

A Kurdish man in his 40s living in Turkey recently spoke to The Sankei Shimbun. Speaking anonymously, he shared the details of his brother's illegal migration from Turkey to North America. "Turkey's economy is in dire straits," he said. "My brother fled the country in search of better income prospects."

The man's younger brother is in his thirties. Toward the end of 2022, he paid approximately $15,000 USD to a Mexican-based organization in Mexico, securing a ticket out of the country. Fifteen thousand dollars is equivalent to three and a half years of Turkey's minimum wage. This group allegedly provided him with a substantial amount of counterfeit documents.

In Turkey, inflation has been a persistent issue in recent years. Consumer prices skyrocketed by nearly 70% in March compared to the same month in 2023. Additionally, a significant earthquake hit the southern region, predominantly populated by Kurds, in February 2023. Turkey's economy has faced prolonged stagnation due to its acceptance of over three million refugees, primarily Kurds, from war-torn Syria.

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This high-rise residential building in Antakya, Turkey, collapsed in the earthquake. March 2, 2023 (© Sankei by Takao Sato)

Over 10,000 Kilometers

After graduating from university, the man's younger brother, unable to secure stable employment, resolved to leave his home country.

First, he flew over 10,000 kilometers from Turkey to Mexico. Without a visa, he passed through immigration with the assistance of a broker. 

Then, he crossed the United States border over land and applied for refugee status. After a journey spanning over 10,000 kilometers, he was granted asylum. He is awaiting his family's residence permit while working as a driver.

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"Refugee? My brother has never faced persecution. He's simply an immigrant. It's only logical to move from jobless Turkey to a wealthier country," the man remarks.

Cheaper than North America

However, only a handful of countries have immigration and refugee systems that allow entry without a visa. In this regard, Japan has recently been attracting attention. Entry from Turkey to Japan does not require a visa. And, with just a few hundred thousand yen for airfare, one can legally enter the country.

"In Japan, you don't even need a visa, so it's cheaper to go there than North America," the man says. "Plus, you can find work. You can easily forge any documents needed for the procedures." 

Reports indicate that a district in Turkey, home to tens of thousands, has seen a significant number of Kurds relocate to Japan. "Maybe their relatives called them over," the Kurdish man speculates. 

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun