Japanese photographer and Syrian husband hope to raise awareness of refugee issue

Japanese photographer and Syrian husband hope to raise awareness of refugee issueimage

20 Oct 2015

A Japanese photographer who is married to a former Syrian refugee hopes her new exhibition will shed light on the plight of refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Yuka Komatsu’s exhibition in Tokyo will feature a number of photos taken in the Turkish town of Reyhanli near the nation’s border with Syria during a trip she made there with her husband, Radwan Abdullatif, in July and August.

Abdullatif, a 26-year-old native of the ancient Syrian capital of Palmyra, was forced to flee to Jordan in the summer of 2012 after the authoritarian regime in Damascus escalated a crackdown on democracy movements.

His days as a refugee ended when he moved to Japan in 2013 after marrying Komatsu, a 33-year-old photographer who was a friend of his family.

Now he watches from the sidelines, despairing as his country is torn apart by fighting with no end in sight.

“At one time I had no idea what it was like to be a refugee but then I found out, so now I know what they are really feeling,” said Abdullatif during a recent interview at the couple’s apartment in Tokyo. “My job now as a Syrian citizen in Japan is to tell the people here how Syrian people are suffering today.”

Komatsu added, “I want to help convey the pain of these people who live in the contemporary world like us through my pictures.”

The exhibition will be held between Oct. 23 and 29 at Gallery Kura in Ochanomizu Solacity Plaza, Chiyoda Ward.

Between Oct. 23 and 25 and on Oct. 29, the documentary film “Loving our Home, Syria, Forever” will also be screened. It focuses on Syrian refugees and is directed by Japanese filmmaker Saori Fujii, who features Abdullatif in the movie.

Abdullatif was born into a Bedouin nomad family in Palmyra. He grew up working at his family’s sheep and camel farming businesses and local olive and pomegranate farms.

But those peaceful days rapidly disappeared when the civil war broke out in March 2011.

During the crackdown on democracy and other anti-government movements, one of Abdullatif’s friends was killed after attending a mass rally, and one of his brothers, who remains missing, was imprisoned for participating in anti-government activities.

This prompted Abdullatif to flee to a refugee camp in Jordan with friends and other family members. In Jordan, he was reunited with Komatsu, who had repeatedly visited his family’s home to take their photos since her first visit to Syria in 2008.

After their marriage in Jordan, the couple moved to Japan in the fall of 2013. In addition to difficulties in adjusting to his new life in Tokyo, Abdullatif said he was saddened by Japan’s closed-door refuge policy.

Of 63 Syrians who have applied for refugee status in Japan since 2011, only three have been recognized as legitimate asylum seekers.

Many of his fellow countrymen who are still undergoing the lengthy refugee screening process by the Justice Ministry have endured unstable living conditions.

“I hope the Japanese government accepts refugees, including Syrian refugees, because so many Syrians are now dreaming of coming to Japan,” he said.

“I hope Japanese people become more accepting of refugees. Even if you cannot help them through donations, you can still help them by your voice, by your heart. Just to think of them, I believe, would help.”

For more information about the exhibition, visit Komatsu’s website at http://yukakomatsu.jp/news/news.html