By María Roldán
Tokyo, Dec 21 (EFE).- Two years after Covid-19 was first detected, Japan continues to impose strict border restrictions which have left thousands of students, professionals and separated families in limbo as their wait to enter the country gets longer and longer.
Around 370,000 foreigners eligible to enter Japan remain abroad as they wait for borders for open.
Nearly 70 percent of these are students, academicians and participants in the Japan’s state-backed professional training program.
Although the country hosted the Olympics with around 90,000 visitors, allowed artists to attend festivals and continues to send its own students abroad, appeals by those who are waiting to enter the Asian nation have fallen on deaf ears.
Literature doctorate Melek Ortabasi set off for Japan in late October, convinced that her sponsor, the state-owned Japan Foundation, would ensure that her three children also arrive in the country by Dec. 23.
Ortabasi was able to finally arrive in Japan after lengthy backstage negotiations between the government and educational institutions, which finally resulted in authorities authorizing the gradual entry of students and academicians.
However, barely a few dozens were able to enter before the order was revoked and the visas were annulled less than a month later, as the Omicron variant was detected in several countries, which also led to a complete ban on the entry of visitors from around a dozen African countries.
Ortabasi is trying to manage her research and an ongoing divorce even as she campaigns for being allowed to bring her children to Japan.
She said that the restrictions were “not humane, do not make scientific or medical sense, and are deeply damaging both (the field of) Japanese studies and Japan.”
“This is primarily a political theatre. It’s not really protecting the population, especially when Japanese people are allowed to travel freely and are subject to less strict quarantine rules,” the academician told EFE.
She said that the ambiguous language of the government, as it demands flexibility from those who have been waiting for months, is “traumatizing.”
“It makes it impossible for us to plan our lives and our finances.”
Ortabasi, 51, is one of the senior-most voices to have publicly protested, but most of the affected people are recent graduates or young professionals who are afraid of speaking out due to possible repercussions for their career.
This is the case with JB, who secured an Erasmus scholarship for the University of Tokyo earlier this year for her PhD research.
However, the scholar is set to lose the scholarship if the borders remain closed until January 2022, which could jeopardize her research into postwar Japanese architecture and conservation, a subject that also makes it impossible to shift her destination to nearby countries like South Korea, as many others have done.
Similarly, United States’ citizen Kaitlyn Ugoretz waited 16 months before giving up her Japan Foundation scholarship and had to continue her studies into the global expansion of Shintoism online.
Ugoretz, who was supposed to have arrived in Japan in 2020, said that many of her students wanted to study in the Asian nation.
“I worry that something similar will happen to them and crush their dreams,” she said.
PO decided to check the Japanese foreign ministry’s website just before he was set to undergo a PCR test, within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Japan.