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Readers’ contributions aiding struggling refugees in Japan

by Jun Hongo

Third in a series

The rising number of foreigners applying for refugee status in Japan has put a strain on nonprofit organizations aiding the underprivileged — and many are relying on donations to cope with the situation.

According to a report released by the Justice Ministry in March, 954 people filed for refugee status in 2006, 2 1/2 times more than the previous year. In that year, the government granted refugee status to 34 people, some of whom had been waiting in limbo for years.

Since its establishment in 1999, the Japan Association for Refugees has aided foreigners granted stay in Japan as well as those on provisional permits. The Tokyo-based group handed out legal and other advice 6,469 times between June 2006 and last June.

“A revision of the Immigration Control Law in 2005 established a new provisional stay permit for those applying for refugee status,” explained Mika Sakurai, JAR’s social assistance officer. But many must wait three to four years for the government to make a decision. In the meantime, they have no right to be employed in Japan.

With money received from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund, JAR offered financial assistance to an Asian woman in her 50s who was injured on the job after obtaining a special permit to stay in Japan.

The money she earned from a less-demanding cleaning job wasn’t enough to live on, so she ended up having to pawn a keepsake ring from her husband. JAR provided ¥10,000 in emergency assistance.

An Asian man in his 40s also received financial support from JAR after being forced to move to a new apartment when the government of his home country learned of his whereabouts. JAR gave the man ¥52,000 to spend on housing and medication. For more than a week, he wasn’t able to afford the medicine he needs to combat a chronic disease.

It hasn’t been easy for JAR to find hospitals willing to offer medical treatment to refugees, most of whom are not covered by medical insurance.

The group has had to rely on four or five hospitals in Tokyo that are generous enough to extend assistance to such patients.

“The situation calls for the creation of a medical system to care for the refugees in Japan,” said Hideaki Sasaki, a JAR board member.

Ajia Yuko-no Ie (Friendly Asians House), a nonprofit organization based in Tokyo’s multicultural Shinjuku Ward, has also seen firsthand the need for immediate improvement of medical aid for refugees.

Active since the 1960s, the group has helped refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia, especially those with health issues.

FAH has made use of donations from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund, including hiring medical translators for those in need.

Of the 954 people who filed for refugee status in 2006, 626 were from Myanmar, and many of those in need of medical care are cash-strapped, said FAH’s Taeko Kimura.

Approximately 100 clients contact FAH every month seeking advice regarding health, employment and legal issues.

“Some are suffering from serious infectious diseases, including AIDS, but they don’t even have a place to live,” Kimura told The Japan Times.

Though staffed by only four people due to lack of funding, the group offers a variety of support, including food and translation assistance for medical needs.

Contributions from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund were used to pay for such services, including a ¥320,000 outlay to fly four ill Myanmar back home.

But in 2007, four of Kimura’s clients passed away, all likely due to lack of medical assistance, while many others are still suffering from diseases.

“Refugees are dying in Japan without receiving the least amount of medical attention. We need to change the situation not only for them, but in order to halt the spread of the diseases in this country,” Kimura said.

Information on how to contribute to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund appears in the lower left corner of Page 1 through Dec. 31.