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April 1997, Volume 4, Number 4

Japan: Chinese Boat People

After apprehending as many illegal Chinese immigrants in January-February 1997 as in all of 1996, a delegation of Japanese officials met with the Chinese government to discuss ways of cracking down on illegal Chinese immigrants. The Japanese government is also planning an investigation to determine the extent of Japanese involvement in foreign crime syndicates, which the government blames for the rise in illegal immigration.

On March 18, China pledged to try to reduce the number of Chinese illegally entering Japan. The Chinese authorities on March 26 reported that they had stopped 235 people between March 1- 20 from leaving the county by boat for Japan. The report came as a Japanese government delegation was visiting Fujian to seek ways to stem the illegal immigration to Japan.

The Los Angeles Times on March 1, 1997 described a "sudden influx" of illegal immigrants from China, Korea, and Pakistan who are smuggled into western Japan aboard fishing boats by Chinese "snakeheads" and Japanese yakuza gangsters. Instead of obtaining the $25,000 fee to be smuggled in advance, many snakeheads charge only $2,000 in advance, with the balance due upon successful entry into Japan. The boat trip from Fujian to Japan normally takes one week.

In order to pay off smuggling fees, some Chinese immigrants commit crimes in Japan; it is reportedly easy to commit crimes in Japan because, with a tradition of little crime, "Japan is unprepared for crime." According to the National Police Agency, many people carry cash and are trusting. Chinese nationals, who were 16 percent of the foreigners living in Japan in 1996, committed 41 percent of all crimes by foreigners in Japan. Foreigners committed two percent of all crimes in Japan in 1996.

The police departments of Tokyo and Osaka have established task forces to deal with Chinese crime.

For the first time since 1978, a majority of Japanese surveyed early in 1997 said they do not feel "friendly" toward China.

In January and February 1997, some 692 illegal immigrants were apprehended from 28 boats, compared with 679 from 29 boats in all of 1995. By some estimates, Japan apprehends only 1 in 10 aliens illegally entering the country, which would suggest an illegal influx from boats of about 3,500 per month. Japan has asked fishermen to report suspicious boats and signs on remote beaches ask residents to call police to report suspicious boats or people.

Masanori Yamanaka, an immigration enforcement official at the Justice Ministry said that "Illegal entry is increasing and is a very worrisome situation now."

Japan's Justice ministry plans to impose heavier penalties on alien smugglers. A bill to revise the immigration control law is expected to be submitted to the current Parliament possibly as early as March. Under current law, penalties for brokers are a maximum of three years imprisonment or 300,000 yen (2,500 dollars) in fines for anyone convicted of illegal entry to Japan, while imposing a jail term of up to one year and six months for those who assist illegal immigrants. The Justice Ministry plans to increase the maximum jail term to some five years for "those who invited, transported, accepted or hid illegal immigrants."

The Justice Ministry reported that 1,328 foreigners applied for refugee status in Japan between 1982 and 1996, and 209 were given refugee status. The same 37 investigators who deal with illegal foreigners reportedly make decisions on refugee applications.

Japanese law requires persons seeking refugee status to file their application within 60 days of their arrival in Japan, or 60 days after they become aware of circumstances in their home country which might make them a refugee.

Representatives of foreign workers in Japan joined in shunto, the annual spring labor union offensive for higher wages and improved benefits. The foreign workers representatives asked the Health and Welfare Ministry and the Labor Ministry (1) to make the Labor Standards Law apply to all workers in Japan and (2) for equal benefits such as paid holidays, maternity leave and other social welfare benefits.


"China stops 235 people fleeing to Japan," Agence France Presse, March 26, 1997. "China may cooperate with Japan to curb illegal immigrants," Asia Pulse, March 24, 1997. "Task force set up to combat criminal activities of illegal Chinese," BBC, March 22, 1997. Satoru Tokairin, "Profits stimulating illegal Chinese immigration," Mainichi Daily News, March 14, 1997. Sheryl WuDunn, "Japan Worries About Crimes by Chinese," New York Times, March 12, 1997. "Foreigners seek coverage in spring labor offensive," Japan Economic Newswire, March 6, 1997. Sonni Efron, "Chinese Smugglers, Yakuza Flood Japan With Illegal Migrants," Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1997. Makiko Tazaki, "Illegal Chinese flocking into Japan despite sluggish job prospects," Agence France Presse, March 1, 1997. "Japan plans heavier penalties for illegal immigration brokers," Agence France Presse, February 28, 1997.