Visa overstayers facing deportation orders marched through Tokyo’s Ginza district on Wednesday afternoon, pleading for permission to remain in a country that many have called home for decades.

Organized by nonprofit organization Asian People’s Friendship Society (APFS), the parade featured about 70 of visa overstayers from countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran, as well as their families and supporters.

“We’re deeply sorry that we broke Japan’s rules,” said one participant, a 45-year-old Filipino mother of two boys. “But for the sake of the future of our children, we beg the Japanese government to let us stay in Japan.”

After losing lawsuits against the government, she and her Filipino husband were told by immigration authorities this year that only their elder son, now aged 18, can remain in Japan. She, her husband and their other son were told to leave.

Like her, many visa overstayers today are those who came to work in Japan in the late 1980s and early ’90s to meet a labor shortage amid the asset-inflated bubble economy, said APFS representative Jotaro Kato. Hungry for labor, the country welcomed them in and turned a blind eye to their presence long after their initial tourist visas expired, he added.

Once demand for their labor subsided, however, authorities began to crack down on overstayers, describing them as criminals engaged in shady businesses or criminal activity such as drug trafficking, Kato said.

As of Jan. 1, the Justice Ministry said there were 60,007 overstayers in the country, about a fifth of the peak level seen in 1993.

“Some people may think those people broke the rules, so they deserve to be sent back to their home countries,” Kato said.

“But it’s not that simple. Their situation was often caused by some forces beyond their control such as labor policies by the government,” he said.

It’s unjust that the foreigners should be repatriated — not to mention separated from their own children — at the whim of the government, Kato said.

Article 9 of the U.N.-designated Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan has ratified, states that “a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will.”

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