Listen to migrant workers' cries, says Japanese Christian leader

By Ecumenical News International
April 9, 2009

A Japanese Christian leader is urging churches to "listen to the cries" of temporary migrant workers many of whom are now without jobs as the unemployment rate of the rate world's second-biggest economy soars due to the global economic crisis - writes Hisashi Yukimoto.

"News reports say that once they become unemployed, they are driven out of their company housing where they lived with their families and forced to sleep in the open. Young children die of cold," said the Rev. Hidetoshi Watanabe, a representative of the Solidarity Network with Migrant Japan, a Tokyo-based group for migrants' rights nationwide.

On 7 April 2009, it was revealed that Japan's unemployment rate had risen to a three-year high of 4.4 percent as companies have continued to cut jobs, due to declining exports.

According to official statistics, as of the end of October, 76,811 businesses notified the labour ministry that they employed 486,398 foreign workers. Of these, 43.3 percent were from China, 20.4 percent from Brazil, and 8.3 percent from the Philippines.

"Behind the 'prosperity' of Japan's economy that was pulled by the auto industry as the major strength of its exports, were legions of foreign workers who have worked hard under uncertain employment conditions," noted Watanabe, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan.

"But once they called a 'depression', the foreign temporary workers have been at the forefront of those many temporary workers who have been fired and discarded," said Watanabe.

In a recent article on the Web site of the Christian Coalition for Refugee and Migrant Workers, Watanabe quoted a New Testament verse in Matthew 25.45, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." Watanabe said, "Are these not words that are now spoken by God to the churches?"

Watanabe's local church is based at Kotobuki-cho, a town of day labourers, including some migrant workers, in the port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo.

Speaking of migrant workers, he asked, "Have their cries reached the ears of the churches?"

Watanabe criticised the government for leaving the country's immigration control law unattended so it can deport overstaying migrant workers.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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