Photo/IllutrationThe plaintiff, a man from Sri Lanka, speaks at a news conference after the court verdict was announced July 5 in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district. (Makiko Ikenaga)

A Sri Lankan asylum seeker won his second lawsuit in a 12-year quest for refugee status on July 5 when the government was ordered for a second time to grant him the status.

Presiding Judge Chieko Shimizu at Tokyo District Court sided with the 58-year-old plaintiff, who argued that the Japanese government’s refusal to grant him the status in December 2011 was illegal because a court had already ruled in his favor in a previous case earlier that year.

“The man falls under the category of refugee," Shimizu said when announcing the latest verdict at the court.

The plaintiff said at a news conference in Tokyo after the verdict that although the decision had been made too late, he was very happy with it.

Responding to the verdict, the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau issued a statement saying, “We will respond properly after considering the court decision.”

The man, who is of the Tamil ethnic minority group, fled Sri Lanka in 2006 during the country’s civil war.

He arrived in Japan seeking asylum on the basis that he was in danger in his homeland due to authorities suspecting he was a supporter of the militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was then at war with Sri Lankan government forces. The man denied being involved with the LTTE.

His application was declined, which led him to file his first suit at Osaka District Court. He won the case in March 2011, and the court instructed the government to grant him refugee status.

In December 2011, the government declined to recognize him as a refugee for the second time because it claimed that the situation in Sri Lanka had improved and that it would be safe for him to return there.

The man’s lawyers argued that it was still unsafe for him to return home, and he was issued a residential visa to allow him to live and work in Japan.

The man then went on to become the first asylum seeker in Japan to take the government to court twice in pursuit of refugee status.

The situation in Sri Lanka was again taken into account ahead of the July 5 verdict. Although the civil war had ended in May 2009, and safety improved, “Tamils who are suspected of having relations with the LTTE were in danger of being detained by the Sri Lankan government” even after December 2011, when the man was again denied refugee status, according to the suit.

The latest judgment said, “The plaintiff is still eligible to be admitted as a refugee,” and concluded that, “The government’s decision not to confirm him as a refugee is illegal” because it had not provided evidence to overturn the first court ruling in the man’s favor.

Twelve years have passed since the man came to Japan for the first time. He said at a news conference that he was unable to attend the wedding of his daughter who lives in New Zealand as he is not able to travel freely without refugee status.

But despite his prolonged limbo, the man said he still has a strong desire to contribute to Japanese society.

Japan’s record on accepting refugees is unfavorable compared to other advanced nations. According to the Justice Ministry, only 20 people were accepted as refugees in Japan of 19,629 applicants in 2017.

In 2016, France accepted 24,007 refugees and the United States accepted 20,437.