A Thai teenager born and raised in Japan lost an appeal today against a court ruling that upheld his deportation order, highlighting Japan’s deep reluctance to accept foreigners even though its population ages and shrinks.
The Tokyo High Court ruled that Utinan Won, a 16-year-old high school student living without a visa, should leave Japan. Utinan‘s mother had already left Japan after lower court judges said her son could win residency if she returned to Thailand.
“Of course I want to stay in Japan,” Utinan told reporters after the ruling. “I’d waited so long for this decision. I’m so sad and pained that it was made so quickly.”
The High Court judges made their ruling in little more than 10 seconds, with cries of “Why?” and “Terrible” coming from a packed public gallery.
Utinan’s case has drawn sharp focus on the plight of hundreds of children who, like him, live on “provisional release” — a status that allows those without visas to stay in Japan while banning them from working and traveling freely.
The agonizing pathway to residency offered by the Japanese immigration authorities and courts to some families living on provisional release is that children can stay in Japan legally if their parents return to their country of origin.
Tokyo District Court judges said in June that the Thai teen could win a special residence permit if his mother — who at the time was also on provisional release — left Japan, and if he found another guardian.
Utinan‘s mother, Lonsan Phaphakdee, returned to Bangkok in September to give her son a chance to continue life in the only country he has known. Won now lives with a Japanese man who has been supporting the family.
According to Japan Times, Lonsan came to Thailand in 1995 to work at a Japanese restaurant, but then found out there was no job. She ended up taking other jobs and overstaying her visa.
Lonsan then began living with a Thai man in Yamanashi Prefecture, where she gave birth to Uthinan.
The High Court judges said in a written ruling: “We must say that the (lower court’s) decision and the deportation order are legally legitimate.”
Although Utinan does not read or write Thai, he is able to speak the language and is young enough to adapt to life back in Thailand, the judges said.
Utinan‘s lawyer, Koichi Kodama, said the judges did not take into consideration the fact that the mother had left Japan and only re-evaluated evidence submitted to the lower court.
Wearing his school uniform and sneakers, Utinan remained impassive throughout the ruling, his head bowed slightly. Representatives from the government, the defendant in the case, were not present at the hearing.
His lawyer said Utinan had not yet decided whether to appeal against the latest ruling.