Adachi ward, bordering Saitama prefecture, is one of the regions in Tokyo where more foreign workers live. Adachi has a population of about 630,000 and is known as a region with many low-income families. It has a long history of small family type enterprises and has always been generously accepting foreigners, especially Koreans. At present, as a new phenomenon, thousands of people especially from various Asian countries live in this region. Next to Koreans, most of the foreigners living there are now from the Philippines.

For about ten years already some Catholic sisters and volunteers worked earnestly to assist those foreigners without proper documentation to get medical aid, to collect unpaid wages and to obtain at least minimum legal papers that are required to use public services. Often, they had to visit people in police and immigration jails. On the other hand, foreigners, especially some overstaying Filipinos, worked also as volunteers, assisting their colleagues. Contacts between Japanese and foreigners gradually increased through the English masses held in a nearby Church for the foreign communities. Nevertheless, such activities were isolated efforts. Since the needs were very serious and the possibilities for coordination were great, the Tokyo social center started to move in. We discussed the matter till we reached the conclusion of becoming involved as much as we could afford it.

Three years ago we organized a small group or team, called "Musubi no Kai" with Filipinos and Japanese in order to combine isolated efforts going on over the last years.

The group decided on common flexible programs with financial support obtained by the social center. The field of work is the Adachi region, home to thousands of foreign workers. This mixed team has been active for the last three years, assisting people in their daily needs whenever they hit the wall and cannot proceed ahead without help.

A Filipina member of the Musubi no Kai group expresses her feelings the following way: "I've been working with Musubi no Kai for almost a year now. I was introduced to the group by my brother who worked with them for the past two years before going back to the Philippines. Usually, the Church is where we encounter the cases we have. After every mass on Sundays, we gather and talk together with fellow Filipinos. The conversations we have are the views of our own country, our families and the different problems and struggles of living in Japan.

Overstaying is the main concern of almost half of our attendance on Sundays. Nowadays, the fact that a person is an overstayer becomes the cause of being fired or exploited at work. At times, one is underpaid or wages are never paid because of their status. Since they are not properly documented and afraid of being unemployed, their hard, long working hours and complaints do not reach authorities for fear of being sent back to the Philippines.
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High medical bills also hinder our people from having even a yearly physical examination. Health problems are set aside in favor of work, because wages are paid on a daily basis. Legal problems interfere with their work and they will have to increase the amounts of money they have to spend.

The feeling of loneliness and isolation is basically every overstayer's struggle. And since their ambition is to provide a decent living for their family, the time people stay in Japan becomes longer, so that being away from their family, the feeling of homesickness becomes the hardest to conquer.

Filipinas married to Japanese nationals meet often complicated and difficult marital problems. Cultural background and differences, the spoken language and different family values lead to domestic violence, emotionally and physically battered wives, separation or divorce.

I often act as a mediator between the Filipinos and Japanese group mates. I listen to their stories and bring them to our group meetings. In Church, I always remind my fellow Filipinos that all their problems have solutions, and assure them that there are people and institutions whom they can turn to for help and to assist them with their problems."
Since foreign workers are often unaware of useful public services in Japan, one of the main tasks of the team is to provide reliable information especially on legal and medical services available, and if necessary, to accompany them. The team produces regular Newsletters on useful matters from cultural to religious reflections that usually reach more than 250 foreigners. A diocesan Catholic Church in Adachi overflows every Sunday with about 500 foreign workers, mostly young Filipinos who come to pray together and to meet their country people there. Besides various pastoral programs, we organized last month together with a medical institution a free medical checkup, with two X-ray bus units. Over 90 persons without any health insurance were able to receive group tuberculosis examination.

Illness is one of the greatest worries for those foreigners without health insurance. Most of the consultation cases I often meet are about health. It is true that medical treatment is expensive, but even if people are able to pay medical bills hospitals usually refuse to accept them.

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There was an Iranian who was beaten by 4 Japanese people he had known. They brought him to the embankment of Ara River. They injured him and stole his money. When some of his friends heard about the matter they ran to rescue him and brought him to a hospital, but he was refused by two different hospitals. Without knowing what to do they phoned one of the staff members of the Musubi no Kai, but there was no answer. They tried several times her apartment and finally when they went there the 4th time she had just come back from outside.

They told her the story of their friend who had been beaten and when they went back to his apartment she saw him sitting on the floor with a swollen face. He looked a different person. His eyes were totally red and congested and his cheek had been cut. Since the wounds did not look very deep she asked, "are you all right?" At that everybody answered, "what do you mean by all right?" I was taken by their friendship and decided to bring the wounded to the hospital that refused to accept him.

The person at the reception desk received us with a very cold attitude. The first thing she asked was the address and name of the Musubi no Kai staff member and told me emphatically, "will you pay the medical bill?" I said, "of course, the patient himself will do that". When I thought of the suffering of the Iranian worker since the time he was beaten till he came to the hospital, I felt sad realizing how much foreigners must suffer in their daily life in Japan.

It was 6 AM when immigration officers came to the apartment of Mr. K, an Iranian overstayer, and knocked at all the doors of the apartment. The rooms here are cheap, about 25,000 yen a month, and most of the dwellers were foreigners. Immigration officials caught by surprise 2 Iranians, 2 Chinese, 2 Pakistanis and an Indian. Mr. K was still sleeping at the time and since the raid happened all of a sudden, he got all confused. Taken to immigration jail he left behind in the apartment his passport, the bankbook and seal.

That afternoon immigration phoned and asked me to come to immigration jail to meet the Iranians caught early that morning. When I went there the next day I was allowed only 10 minutes to meet them. I asked them what they wanted me to do, received the key of their apartment's room and looked for their valuables. I took the money from the bank account, prepared their luggage and contacted their friends. I visited them daily in prison and, together with other Iranian and Japanese friends; we made the needed arrangements for returning home. Finally, after 2 weeks they could go back safely.

This time it was the case of a Filipino who had suddenly been fired from work. According to his phone conversation he went in the morning to his place of work and his boss told him, "there is no more work for you to do; you don't need to come here any more".

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Just a month ago they handed him a document written in Japanese to sign. Although he can not read Japanese he signed the document. In reality, by signing, he had agreed to stop being an employee to become just a part-timer.

I took him to the Labor Standards Inspection Office in order to get their advice. There he was told that, since they had fired him all of a sudden, he should demand compensation for the dismissal warning. He should ascertain whether the expression, "you don't need to come any more" really means, "you are fired" and then he should demand compensation. After verifying everything, we sent a contents-certified mail to the president of the company asking for due compensation. A month later, a full amount 30-day salary was sent to him.

When people have a proper visa they can get a job in a company and, in case of unjust treatment, they can sue their employers. Nevertheless, foreign ladies working in pubs may not receive their full salaries, under the pretext that business is not good or that the customers are few. Usually, such situations continue for months and many women, unable to meet their daily expenses because they do not receive their full salaries, move to a different shop.

One of our important tasks is to inform people about midwifery public services for those who can not afford to pay the full expenses of childbirth. If the persons so desire we accompany them to the Welfare public offices to apply for help. In the last 2 years 6 pregnant women were able to deliver safely their babies by using such services.

A Filipina girl gave premature delivery to a 7-month old baby, before applying for public assistance. The baby was so small that had to be kept in an incubator. The daily cost was 10,000 yen and the medical bill for the 2 months the baby was hospitalized raised to 600,000 yen. The father of the baby ran away when the girl was 3-month pregnant and she was perplexed about how to pay the bills. Following the advice of a caseworker of the Red Cross Hospital I brought her to the Adachi Public Office to apply for medical aid. As of today there is no answer yet. There are many cases of pregnant women who, at the most important time of childbirth, are left alone by their husbands. The full psychological and financial burden is only beard by the women.

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It can be observed from the former paragraphs that besides jobs, medical services, documentation, the police and immigration, there exist many problems concerning women and children. Every day, practically, people ask advice for pregnancies, childbirth, divorce, husband violence, children education and the disruption of human relations. It is impossible to answer.

How difficult it is to survive in a country so different culturally, and with unfamiliar customs and language. On top of this, I feel that the harsh working conditions imposed upon foreign workers have produced an increasing severe environment to them. On the other hand, I am most impressed when, on Sundays, we pray together with them and share their deep faith that is transmitted to us. That is from where they receive their energy to survive.

Since the Musubi no Kai is a small organization that lacks expertise, we examine the cases and try to answer the needs of foreign workers, by contacting other groups and establishments active in similar fields. We lead people to experts in legal matters, labor issues or medical assistance, or to the Adachi Public Office. Our relationship to foreign workers living in our region is not that of giving help, but to extend our hands so that we could walk together. The name of "Musubi no Kai" means to joint hands. That is our desire.

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