Pyae Lyan Aung, a Myanmar national soccer goalkeeper who refused to return home after protesting against the February military coup in his country, officially received a certificate of refugee status in Japan on Friday, the player and his lawyer said.
The Immigration Service Agency of Japan granted him the status of long-term resident, which allows him to stay in Japan for five years, saying he could face persecution if he returns to Myanmar.
"I am grateful to Japanese people, the Japanese government and everyone who has supported me so far. I am relieved," he told reporters after receiving the certificate at the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau, adding he wishes to study Japanese and work in Japan.
In late July, Pyae Lyan Aung, 27, joined a J-League third division team in Yokohama as a trainee.
The substitute goalie flashed a three-finger salute in protest at the military junta at a World Cup qualifier between Japan and Myanmar in late May. He entered Japan earlier in the month as a member of the national soccer team on a short-term visa allowing a stay of up to 90 days.
When the team was about to leave Japan on June 16 after playing two more World Cup qualifiers, Pyae Lyan Aung told immigration authorities at Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture that he wanted to remain in the country.
He applied for refugee status and requested to switch his visa status on June 22, expressing fears for his life after he made the three-finger salute, which has been used as a show of resistance in Myanmar to the coup.
He was granted a "designated activities" visa on July 2 that permits him to stay and work in the country for six months, based on an emergency measure to prevent Myanmar residents from being deported.