Over two days on 18th and 19th June I attended the 8th National Forum in Solidarity with Migrants – Tokai, at Chukyo University, Nagoya. The forum attracted over 500 individuals including representatives from non-government agencies, local government, social workers, teachers, university students, academics, foreign nationals, refugees and many others with an interest in the issue of migrants and refugees in Japan.
Key points include:
1. There is a complete absence of any anti-discrimination law in Japan.
2. There are no provisions in place to protect the rights of Japan’s foreign workers
- Workers are subject to gross exploitation by their employer with poor pay and working conditions. In most cases, the initial three year temporary contract with a company will not lead to re-employment (due to a company’s obligations to permanently employ a worker after this period).
3. The disadvantage experienced by migrant and refugee families in Japan is multi-generational.
- Many foreign national residents do not qualify for welfare benefits. This increases the burden on families and further restricts their income-earning capacity. (I.e. having to provide child care as well as care during sickness and old age).
4. The Japanese education system is not inclusive of children from migrant/refugee families.
- School attendance is not compulsory for foreign-born children. Rates of attendance have been found to be directly related to the employment status of one’s parents. After the Lehman shock of 2008 for example, the number of Brazilian students enrolled in full-time education significantly decreased.
- Rigorous high school entry examination requirements prevent many students from enrolling due to poor Japanese ability or having studied at a foreign school or another unapproved educational institution.
- Privately-run foreign schools have only recently been recognised for government subsidies, however many schools have yet to gain government approval (including Korean high schools which have been completely excluded).
- Language continues to be a major barrier for foreign-born children attending Japanese schools and there is limited, and in many circumstances, no provisions in place to offer support.
In Aichi prefecture alone, there are currently 28,575 enrolled students requiring foreign language assistance (Of which 51% were born in Japan and 75% have been enrolled in school for more than 5 years).
5. ’Multicultural Social Workers’ are beginning to emerge as having a key role in responding to the needs of migrants and refugees in Japan.
- Last year 90 Social Workers in Aichi Prefecture were trained to support foreigners. They are based in agencies such as Aichi Multicultural Coexistence Center which has three Social Workers on hand to provide various forms of practical and psychological supports to foreigners.
6. The history of discrimination against foreign nationals in Japan is long-lasting and systemic. It extends to all aspects of life in Japan including housing, employment, health, education and restricts access to even the most basic of human rights.
Closing recommendations included the following actions:
- Take measures to increase the full-time, permanent employment of foreign workers
- Promote employment opportunities for single mothers from a migrant background (with consideration for the particular circumstances of victims of domestic violence and trafficking)
- Enhance the role of social workers in responding to the needs of migrants and refugees in Japan
- Introduce immediate, streamlined measures to improve the health of foreign nationals (access, translation services)
- Urge local municipalities to establish ordinances for the promotion of multiculturalism (with attention to human rights and anti-discrimination)
- Increase the participation of foreign residents in all levels of Japanese society, including policy and law making.
Unfortunately, all in all the tone of the forum was one of frustration and hopelessness. After hearing from a number of passionate individuals who have been involved in the sector for many years – I was left with the impression that most of them are continuing to bang their heads against a brick wall when it comes to making any progress on issues of equality and the fair treatment of foreign nationals in Japan. Most disappointing was the fact there was little to no direct representation by foreign nationals in any of the presentations or seminars over the 2 day forum. Whether intentional or simply an oversight, ironically, isn’t this actually a form of oppression in itself?
In the words of a male refugee applicant I met on the day:
The national forum was very helpful & needed. I hope that in future, the forum authority will make (it longer) & give (us) a chance to say something in front of Japanese people, as foreigners & refugees. It is a very good (opportunity) for cooperation with Japanese to foreigner.
If there was any cause for hope, it was in the number of people the forum attracted. Over 500 attended from many parts of Japan. Perhaps this is key to making development on these issues. By increasing the numbers of interested and concerned Japanese citizens, support will slowly mobilise from within. And ultimately, if there is increased pressure on the government to answer the demands of its people there is a greater likelihood things will change. Just how this consciousness raising should be addressed wasn’t discussed at the forum, but I think it’s worth considering as a central part of the strategy.