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A group of visa overstayers launched a month-long campaign Monday in which they will ask 36 local assemblies in the Kanto region for special permission to remain in the country legally.

Spearheaded by the Asian People’s Friendship Society, a nonprofit organization, the campaign includes 35 undocumented immigrants of eight nationalities, including Filipinos, Iranians and Peruvians.

The organization submitted the first petition on Monday at noon to a city assembly in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, where the society’s headquarters is located. It calls for the “immediate legalization” of undocumented immigrants who have long resided in Japan, by issuing special permission to stay in the country.

The group plans to submit similar petitions to at least 35 other local assemblies in the Kanto region, including those in Tokyo, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, by the end of August. In each case, they will request that their pleas be conveyed to the central government.

“For years we’ve been worried Japanese society has grown increasingly intolerant of these foreigners,” APFS representative Jotaro Kato told reporters. “It appears widening inequalities have come to a head in our society, where the weak are marginalized and made invisible, while the strong thrive in power.” The campaign comes at a time when the government is hoping to lure more foreign workers by expanding its long-criticized foreign trainee program, to combat a critical shortage of manpower in the construction industry. But the plan, APFS adviser Katsuo Yoshinari says, spells trouble because its lacks foresight about how to deal with the foreign workers once they’re allowed into the country.

“Rather than rushing to invite foreign workers from abroad with little planning (on how to help them fit in), we believe the government should first face the existence of those undocumented foreigners already based in our nation, and discuss their possible legalization,” Yoshinari said.

Among those who have joined the campaign is Philippine national Allan Dula, 39.

He originally came to Japan in 1994 under a tourist visa with his Filipino girlfriend, before being caught overstaying it in 2007. He was later detained, but since 2008 has been granted a provisional release. His wife and two sons, both born in Japan, are also without legitimate legal status and are unable to work, claim national health insurance or even travel outside the prefecture in which they reside without permission from immigration officials.

“I was born and raised in Japan my entire life. Even if we go to the Philippines, I have no idea how to survive there. Everyone in my family loves Japan, and I can think of nowhere else to live,” 17-year-old Daniel, one of his sons, said in Japanese.

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