(From The Catholic Weekly Japanese newspaper dated May 22nd, 2011)
On the 4th Monday of every month the Jesuit Social Center (Tokyo) offers free legal consultation for foreigners. For the last 30 years, the Jesuit Social Center of which its present director is Fr. Mitsunobu Ichiro has been active in research and action programs on social issues. Starting last January, its migrant desk has organized legal consultation for foreigners once a month, in cooperation with Tokyo Public Law Office at the facilities of the center, located in the 4th floor of Kibe Hall, by Kojimachi St. Ignatius Church (Tokyo).
The consultation, 30 minutes per person, is done by appointment and persons versed in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean are available. Since the Jesuit Social Center bears the cost the consultation is free. The content of the consultation covers wide areas of legal issues, like labor problems, overstay and renewal of visas, refugee status, divorce and international marriage, civil and criminal offense, etc.
Staff member Fr. Ando Isamu, SJ, former director of the Center, explains the reasons why the legal assistance for foreigners started. “The problems migrants in Japan face are complicated and lawyers are needed, especially in cases of a trial in order to find solutions. On the other hand, language barriers, differences in the legal systems and the difficulties in understanding legal terms make it very difficult for foreigners. On top of that, they need courage to go to consult a lawyer in Japanese. Besides that access to law offices are very difficult for them. Thus, we thought to offer foreigners a place where they could have the opportunity of using their own language in a legal consultation.
This is how the consultations take place. First of all, the clients are asked to deposit their application form in the mail post of the Social Center, located at the entrance of the Kibe Hall, before the 2nd Monday of the month. The forms should have their names and gender, besides their telephone to contact them. Later, Fr. Ando and staff, Jessie Tayama (a lay person of Kojimachi Church) will call the client for a one-hour interview. Then, based on the information obtained, the time to meet with the lawyer is decided.
The Tokyo Public Law Office, supported by Tokyo Bar Association, sends the lawyers to the Social center for the legal consultation. The Tokyo Public Law Office established the Section of pay legal assistance for foreigners on November 1, 2010.
On the other hand, since the beginning of the ’80s Fr. Ando has been assisting refugees and displaced persons living in Japan from countries of the Indochina region. Later on he became involved in the situation of migrant workers coming to work in Japan and, because of their complex and difficult problems that required technical approaches, decided to look for suitable lawyers. Then, the opening of the Section of legal assistance for foreigners of Tokyo Public law Office caught his attention and after discussing the matter with the lawyers in charge, both concerned parties agreed to conduct free legal services for foreign migrant workers at the Jesuit Social Center.
The actual migrant desk of the Center conducts also the following activities: (1) the reediting of the Booklet ”Foreigners Unwanted” (2011 / 98 pages / 300) that exposes the difficult situations of migrant workers actually living in Japan. (2) Networking with civil groups (NGOs) active in issues concerning migrant workers (3) Visits to prisoners detained in immigration jails.
Next free legal consultation schedule: June 27th (Monday), July 25th (Monday) from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Thereafter, legal services will be offered on the 4th Monday of every month.
Jesuit Social Center Migrant Desk
Tel: 03-5215-1844 Fax: 03-5215-1845