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April 2001, Volume 8, Number 4

Japan: Migrants and Refugees

Japan has an estimated 252,000 illegal foreign residents, many of whom are employed in construction and other industries with high accident rates. They cannot join the national insurance system so, when injured on the job, unauthorized foreign workers often become charity cases for doctors and hospitals.

Several private sector medical plans offer health insurance for unauthorized foreigners in Japan. Akihiro Ori of the International Legal Labor Union Bright in Tokyo's Toshima Ward noted that his union, founded in 1993, covers 70 percent of medical expenses of 6,100 non-Japanese workers for a 5,000-yen ($43) monthly fee.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees on March 7 said that Japan should accept more refugees. Japan accepted 10,919 refugees between 1975 and 2000, an average 437 a year, including 16 in 1999.

In March 2001, a Tokyo District Court ordered by immigration authorities to allow a woman born to Chinese parents in the late 1970s in Shanghai, and living in Japan since 1990, to remain as a permanent resident. The court ruled that it would be extremely difficult for the woman to make a living in Bolivia, as she has lived only in Japan since her childhood. Her parents were deported to China in 1988 and 2000.


Hiroshi Hiyama, "NHCR head asks Japan to accept refugees," Agence France Presse, March 7, 2001. Chie Matsumoto, "Medical oases for illegal workers," Asahi News Service, March 2, 2001.