New Emissary

It’s Where you Focus

Beyond the big news right now in Japan, is another tale of small political victory.

Japan's been bubbling over with action since yesterday’s announcement that the country’s Prime Minister and ‘kingpin’ secretary-general are resigning from office. I’ve been trying to keep abreast the media frenzy by reading our Tokyo Notes blog, which Editor Jason Miks and Japan Correspondent Paul Jackson have been updating frequently with original interviews and not-to-miss analysis.

I also spoke to a Tokyo-based acquaintance about the reaction of Japanese citizens in the capital city who told me that from his perspective, the topic has definitely replaced weather-talk at the office water cooler while noticeably more newspapers are being flipped through on commuter trains.

Such political hubbub can easily dominate the media, along with the psyche of the people of a given country, even serving up feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for some. So I was happy to hear today from photographer Ryan Libre, who I interviewed last month about his amazing experience with the Kachin Independence Army in Burma, who had some very different news from Japan.

Libre, who is currently based in Thailand, told me that he’s recently himself covered a story for a South Asian publication, about Kum Htat Awng La, a young Burmese man from Kachin, who last month was, against all odds, officially recognized as a refugee by the Japanese government. This is quite a feat, as reportedly only two percent of applicants for refugee-status in Japan are accepted.

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As Ryan describes it, Awng La’s journey since fleeing Burma and trying to seek refuge in Japan has been a five-year struggle, which ‘involved being arrested twice, spending nearly a year in various detention centers, bouts of depression and a 40-day fast.’ The Kachin native initially fled his country to avoid the same fate met by his older brother, who was taken away by the Burmese military government, forced to work for them in grueling conditions until he became sick and eventually died from his untreated and unidentified illness.

With his new status, Awng La is now able to move closer towards the light at the end of the tunnel, which includes completing the legal process to bring his wife and children to Japan, who he left behind and has not seen in six years.

It also feels nice to know that although professional photographers like Libre often try to be objective in their work, sometimes the human spirit is inspiring enough to break through a lens and create more powerful connections between people.