Efforts by citizens group to help evacuate former Afghan students face financial barrier

Yamaguchi University has “no plans” to address issue

by Minami Yamashita, Staff Writer

A citizens group based in Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, has embarked on efforts to rescue Afghan students formerly enrolled at Yamaguchi University, located in Yamaguchi City, who are now back in Afghanistan, a nation controlled by the Taliban Islamic movement. The citizens group aims to obtain visas to clear the way for the former students to return to Japan, but the hurdles, including financial, are high. The group will soon make a formal request for support to Yamaguchi University, from which cooperation has been hard to come by.

After the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital city of Kabul on August 15, a message from a former Afghan student now living in Kabul reached the Facebook account of Takanori Oka, 67, a member of the Yamaguchi International Exchange Association. The message indicated the student could be killed and that he hoped the Japanese government would issue him a visa. One cause of his persecution in Afghanistan is apparently his having been educated in Japan.

After Mr. Oka received the message, the citizens group “Kokusai Koryu Hirakawa Kaze no Kai,” an organization engaged in promoting international exchange for which Mr. Oka serves as an advisor, called on Yamaguchi University to address the issue. According to the group, however, the university repeatedly said it had no plans to support the former students. The public relations office at the university explained in an interview with the Chugoku Shimbun that the university was monitoring the situation.

As a mediator organization between overseas students and local residents, the Kaze no Kai group, made up of residents living in the vicinity of the Yamaguchi University campus, has worked to foster communication with overseas students, including about ten from Afghanistan, through such traditional Japanese events as rice harvesting and Bon dancing. Mr. Oka said, “All are highly talented people. If the university would hire them as researchers or staff, it could use government employee housing and help them find employment in the future.”

As the situation was unchanged, the group decided in the middle of October that it would serve as the guarantor for the former Afghan student who first sought help in obtaining a visa. However, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, any such guarantor needs to bear all travel and living expenses. Mr. Oka expressed indignation at the university. “I can understand the university’s situation surrounding its personnel and budget, but I hope they consider things from a humanitarian perspective and take some sort of action. It’s shameful the university is leaving its job to a private-sector organization like ours.”

Among other universities in the Chugoku region, moves have been made to aid former Afghan students. Hiroshima University, located in Higashihiroshima City, established a special task force on its campus at the end of August. The group will help former Afghan students apply for visas, secure accommodations, and find employment. A task force representative said, “We haven’t received any former students yet because it is hard for them to leave Afghanistan. But, in our role as a university, we want to provide the maximum level of support.” Shimane University, located in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture, is also formulating support measures, including one to offer former Afghan students short-term employment at the university. Futayuki Masunaga, a soil science professor in the faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences at the university who has led the relief effort, said, “I want to help my former students in trouble.”

The Kaze no Kai group will shortly submit a written request to Yamaguchi University together with Yamaguchi City Assembly members calling on the university to take action in collaboration with other national universities. Kotaro Arinaga, 53, a company employee living in Yamaguchi City who taught karate to Afghan students, cooperates in the efforts. He voiced his hope. “I want to help the friends with whom I trained. If Yamaguchi University is on a tight budget, I hope it will look at what it can do, such as requesting support from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.”

Two former Afghan students live in hiding without even slight “hope of survival”

With the help of Mr. Arinaga’s connections, the Chugoku Shimbun online contacted two Afghan men who had studied in Japan. They responded to the paper’s questions in written English, hoping that conveying the current state of Afghanistan would lead Japanese people to request Japan’s national government to evacuate them from their hiding places in Afghanistan.

One of the interviewees wrote that after the Taliban came to power, he lost his job and became unable to freely move about outside. He also wrote that the Taliban froze his bank account, making it impossible to support his family. Living in a rural area of the country, he said he is afraid he might face torture because he had received higher education in Japan and held an important post at a local government after returning to Afghanistan. He wrote that he was working to make use of the new ideas and technologies he had learned in Japan for the development of his own country, but he said he had no hope of survival at present.

The other interviewee also lost his job after returning to Afghanistan. He was abducted and confined by the Taliban for more than a year. According to his account, those who have studied abroad and respect democracy and women’s rights are regarded as enemies. He also indicated that former employees of the collapsed government were being assassinated almost daily and that there were bombings and suicide bomb attacks by the militant Islamic State (IS) in cities and rural farming villages. Showing the reporters photographs of his daughters, he expressed his wishes to not be killed, for his daughters to go to school, and to live peacefully without fear.

The two Afghans seek help, writing that the Japanese government and Japanese people had always helped Afghans in the past and that they hoped the Japanese government and Japanese people would once again help to ensure that Afghanistan could emerge from the current situation.

(Originally published on October 22, 2021)