Living in limbo

Since the beginning of Myanmar's democratisation in 2011, the nation has attracted investment from all over the world and has been dubbed "the last Asian frontier."

In April, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the nation's largest opposition party, visited Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned the favour the following month to promote deepening bilateral ties. It was the first visit to Myanmar by a Japanese prime minister in 36 years.

Under oppressive military rule, more than 3,000 people are estimated to have fled Myanmar to seek refuge in Japan. While some were able to temporarily return home, about 200 have been deprived of their nationality and forced to live a rootless life. These people are known as the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are a minority who practice Islam and primarily live in Rakhine State, western Myanmar, near the border with Bangladesh. While 800,000 were estimated to be living in the nation, at least 500,000 have fled to escape persecution after the government enforced a law in 1982 that stripped them of their nationality, and limited their movement, ability to marry and other basic rights.

One such Rohingya man is currently living in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. "Abudullah" is 42 years old and in August 1988, he participated in pro-democracy protests in which several thousand of his countrymen were killed.

He was a high school student when he joined a demonstration in a village in Rakhine State. Like many other protests, they were put down by the military. Abudullah's friend was shot dead, while he was detained for 10 days, during which he was physically assaulted.

After this movement, discrimination against Rohingya worsened.

To escape persecution, Abudullah moved around Malaysia and Indonesia before finally entering Japan seven years ago with a forged passport.

After his application for refugee status was rejected twice, he now lives under provisional release status as he has no nationality and no home country to be returned to.

He cannot have a job and is dependent on aid and money provided by a nonprofit organisation to a mosque. When he becomes sick, he cannot visit a doctor as he lacks the money to pay for health care.

"Why did I come to Japan?"

"Do they expect me to steal?"

These are the things he laments when he meets with associates. Although Abudullah married and had children in Indonesia, he is alone in Japan. Fearing for his safety, he was forced to leave them behind as someone reported him as an illegal immigrant.

His homeland, which is beginning to plant the seeds of democracy, remains very far away.

A volunteer who visited Indonesia in March brought back a letter from his daughter.

"Father, how are you? I'm already a middle school student. I miss you very much since you left us when I was a first-grader in primary school. I've been waiting for you for a long, long time."

Every time Abudullah tries to read the letter, he cannot finish it as his sadness is too much to bear.

"I want to see my family," he said with a trembling voice, covering his face with his hands.