Foreign disaster victims in Hiroshima struggle to overcome language, paperwork barriers in quest for assistance

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

A month after the historic rain disaster in western Japan, residents in Hiroshima are still struggling to come to terms with the aftermath. And the people most affected, particularly those unfamiliar with Japanese procedures, will face further hurdles on the path to recovery.

As residents and volunteers continue cleanup efforts in areas devastated by mudslides and floods, cities and support organizations are trying to help evacuees secure housing and financial aid.

Municipalities in the regions have been accepting applications for risai shomei (disaster-victim certification), which provides proof of residential damage and usually takes around two weeks to receive.

The document can be used to apply for assistance ranging from relief money, temporary or municipal housing and reduction or exemption from national health insurance premiums to reconstruction loans and textbook replacement.

Both home owners and renters are eligible.

“So far, we’ve received about 800 applications of which around 10 were from foreign residents,” an Asakita Ward Office official who did not want to be named said Thursday.

Given that applicants are required to submit photographs of their damaged homes, even people who are not fluent in Japanese can still convey their problems.

“They only need to write their postal address and name, so it’s not that difficult,” he said. But further procedures might create hurdles for non-Japanese, he noted.

“If they’re asked to describe their situation in detail when consulting on what kind of support they’re eligible for, they may really struggle to communicate their problems correctly when applying for financial or other forms of assistance,” he said.

An official with the Asaminami Ward Office, meanwhile, said no foreign residents had come to apply.

Officials from Kaita, a town just outside Hiroshima that is home to a large Brazilian community, said some foreign residents had reported damage but might not be aware of procedures that could help them get back on their feet.

“We’ve received inquiries from foreign residents concerning the certificate for disaster victims,” with many asking what it is, said an official of Kure Municipal Government, which also hosts a large contingent of Brazilians as well as Filipinos.

As of Tuesday, the city had received 2,953 applications for disaster victim certificates. “Some of those who came in were accompanied by an interpreter,” the official said.

The Kure International Exchange Association, which supports non-Japanese residents in cooperation with the municipal government, is providing information on how to apply for the certificate in five languages, including English and simplified Japanese for those who can read hiragana, on its website and Facebook page.

“We’ve heard that some have been asking about disaster victim certificates so we try to help explain the procedure whenever such help is needed,” said Toshimitsu Sobiki, a senior official in the Kure Municipal Government’s secretariat.

Sobiki explained that the city is working with civic groups and interpretation companies to do what it can. “But it’s hard to reach the victims directly and respond to all their needs,” he added.

Other translation or interpretation companies are doing the same.

The Hiroshima International Center, which provides consultations and translations in English, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Tagalog, is offering assistance with financial aid applications and recovery procedures.

“We told municipal governments that we’re prepared to dispatch volunteers who can accompany the applicants and interpret the conversation,” said Ryohei Kumamoto, the center’s general director.

At the request of the Kure and Hiroshima governments, Kumamoto said the center is also translating documents to inform residents of the various types of assistance available.

“Now that the situation has gotten under control, we’re not getting such requests anymore, as many victims have already applied for the victim certificate,” Kumamoto said. “But I believe that translation and interpretation services will likely be required when the victims will be applying for further assistance. We may start getting such requests soon.”

According to the Hiroshima Prefectural Government, the prefecture of 2.82 million had 42,973 foreign residents as of June 1, with 18,474 residing in the capital as of late June.

As many as 14,615 dwellings in the prefecture had been reported damaged or destroyed as of Thursday, with 658 houses destroyed and 1,865 heavily damaged.

The toll from the record rainfall stood at 108 dead and six missing as of Thursday, with about 1,000 displaced and living at some 66 evacuations centers.The prefectural government announced last week that it will open support centers that can provide services including mental health care in 11 cities and towns in September.

Useful Links:

http://www.bousai.go.jp/updates/h30typhoon7/index.html
http://www.bousai.go.jp/updates/h30typhoon7/pdf/300801_h30typhoon7_01.pdf
http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/ircd/english/emergency/notice1.pdf
http://www.city.hiroshima.lg.jp/www/contents/1531212681949/index.html