A group of 85 former Hansen’s disease patients in South Korea filed a request with the Japanese government Wednesday for compensation for being forced into sanitariums when the peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule.

It is the second such application from a Korean group under the 2001 law to compensate Hansen’s disease patients for being forcibly isolated from society and held in special sanitariums.

The first group of 28 applied in December.

With the help of supporters in Japan, Kang U Sok, 78, who is visiting Tokyo as a representative of 113 former Hansen’s patients in South Korea, submitted the second group’s application to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Kang himself belongs to the first group, which filed its application via Japanese lawyers acting as an agent.

“No words could describe the hardships I’ve been through,” Kang told a news conference after submitting the request from the 85 people. “To an old man like me, a day feels like a hundred days. I want (the Japanese government) to compensate (us) as soon as possible.”

The compensation law puts no limit on where the sanitariums were, stipulating only that redress should be paid to anyone who was forced by Japanese authorities to live in Hansen’s disease sanitariums, even for a single day, regardless of nationality or place of residence.

But a ministry ordinance limits compensation to patients quarantined in Japan.

The applicants were forcibly institutionalized at Sorokto Hospital on an island in South Cholla Province when Japan ruled Korea. All still reside in the hospital.

The average age of the 85 applicants — 26 men and 59 women — is about 81.

Sorokto Hospital, now a South Korean national hospital, was established in 1917 on the small island off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula by the colonial governor’s office. It houses 740 former Hansen’s disease patients.

Under the colonial Korean leprosy disease prevention ordinance — which copied the now-repealed Leprosy Prevention Law in Japan — patients were forced into the sanitarium and subjected to hard labor and sterilization operations.

Japan’s Leprosy Prevention Law was repealed in 1996.

The government’s segregation policy toward Hansen’s patients continued for decades even after it was scientifically proven that the illness could be cured and that patients were unlikely to transmit the disease.

The government is still considering how to respond, but for the time being the ministry will wait for a panel to convene and discuss the issue sometime in March, ministry officials said earlier.

But supporters said earlier that the ministry is likely to reject the applications, owing to the ministry ordinance.


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