04/30/2015, 00.00
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Doing more: the Church and the plight of migrant workers in Japan

“Although it is hard to judge from a legal and legislative point of view, from a human one, expelling them from the country is an injustice,” said PIME regional superior. Perhaps, the Church “ought to do” something. Yesterday, a group of immigrants staged a protest, calling on the government to allow them to remain in the country where they have lived for decades.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Irregular workers are a “just cause,” said Fr Mario Bianchin, regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Japan. “Although it is hard to judge from a legal and legislative point of view,” he added, “from a human one, expelling them from the country is an injustice”.

The PIME missionary spoke to AsiaNews after some 70 workers with an expired work permit staged a protest yesterday, with their families, in Tokyo’s Ginza district, to ask the government to let them stay in the country where they have lived for about three decades.

"Immigration is a major problem in Japan, involving a lot of people,” Fr Bianchin said. “It all began about 30 years ago, when the governments of Japan and Brazil agreed to a programme to allow Brazilian nikkeijin (overseas Japanese) to work in Japan if they wanted.

"Two- or three-year work permits were granted, with the possibility of renewal,” he said. “For both governments, it was an act of goodwill. Japan got new workers, and the latter got good wages.”

Often, when work visas expired, Japanese authorities just “turned a blind eye,” this according to the Asian People's Friendship Society, the NGO that organised the protest.

Now however, the “economic crisis is creating problems for both immigrants and government,” Fr Bianchin explained. And “The government is no longer interested in keeping them in the country; instead, it is trying to remove them.

“Many foreign workers chose not to renew their contract, opting instead to go home. Yet, for others, it is hard to return to their native countries after 30 years living abroad. Many prefer to stay in Japan illegally fearing that they might not find work.

At the same time, Japanese immigration law is very strict. Jus solis is not enough for citizenship; one must have at least one Japanese parent. For this reason, the Japanese-born children of illegal workers very often cannot stay in Japan.

If foreign workers have Japanese relatives, they can choose to be placed with them, but their family will have to go.

For Fr Bianchin, "Japan has never been very welcoming to immigrants because Japanese society is very uniform, impermeable [to outside influences].”

“Legally, immigrants face a difficult situation,” the PIME missionary noted. “Once their visa expires, they have no legal recourse. Any small incident, like a car accident, allows the government to identify and expel them.”

“In the case of undocumented Christian workers, many do not want to give their name in parishes because they are afraid that the government might find them. It is not that the government is persecuting them, but it takes very little to be thrown out.”

In light of the situation, "The Japanese Church is getting more socially involved,” Fr Bianchin explained. “However, perhaps we ought to do more in this vast and important area.”

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