Osaka evicts squatter camp near school

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

OSAKA — An estimated 70 homeless people living in makeshift tents beside a junior high school in Nishinari Ward’s day-laborer district were forcibly evicted by city and police officials Monday morning.

Despite scuffles between the homeless and officials, no injuries were reported and police said no arrests were made.

The city announced it planned to remove the squatters in the Airin district late last week after several attempts to persuade them to leave the area failed.

On Sunday, lawyers representing 39 squatters lost an appeal with the Osaka High Court to stop the eviction, paving the way for Monday’s action.

Some of the homeless people had been living beside Imamiya Junior High School for more than six months, prompting complaints from local residents and the school’s PTA members about the smell.

The tents first sprang up in July 1997, following completion of a new sidewalk in front of the school.

Early Monday morning, about 220 employees from the city construction bureau set up barricades on the eastern and western ends of the street. They were joined by about 50 police officers.

As city employees and police moved down the street followed by garbage trucks, they were accosted and shoved by small groups of homeless people. Several officials were pelted with bottles and garbage.

As the trucks moved down the street and cleaning crews got to work, a fire was set at the entrance to a park that had been broken into the night before by several squatters who erected makeshift tents.

City officials quickly extinguished the fire, and by late morning most of the makeshift tents along the street had been hauled away.

At one point, Shinzo Yamaguchi, one of those living on the street, attempted to lie in front of one of the moving trucks. He was quickly removed by police.

“This is our home. We have no work and nowhere else to go,” Yamaguchi said.

Police had been concerned that the eviction would lead to violence.

In October 1990, riots erupted in the district, injuring many and leading to numerous arrests.

The area is home to the largest concentration of day-laborers and homeless people in the Kansai region, and about 1,000 people were in the vicinity of the junior high school Monday morning.

On Sunday evening, about 10 labor activists arrived from Tokyo and joined local labor activist Hiroshi Inagaki, who said he was contacted by those living in the area seeking assistance in stopping the eviction.

The city is trying to relocate the squatters to temporary facilities in Osaka’s Nanko port district, although most of the homeless people are resisting the move.

By 11 a.m. Monday, most of the debris had been cleared away and many of those who had been living on the street had disappeared. Some who remained said they did not know where they would spend the night.

A city spokesman said 130 large flower pots would be placed on both sides of the street, following cleanup operations, to prevent the squatters from returning. The work was to be completed later Monday.

Early Sunday morning, Yoshiyuki Nakamoto, one of those who had been living beside the school, died after a long illness.

A memorial service was held for him Sunday evening. Nakamoto had taken part in an appeal to Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura in mid-December, asking that the tents not be removed and requesting medical care for those who needed it.