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2 Vietnamese students in limbo due to coronavirus tell of hardship being stuck in Japan

Bao Van Nguyen, who studies at a technical college in the capital and is struggling amid the fallout from the novel coronavirus, is seen in Taito Ward, Tokyo, on May 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

TOKYO -- For a lot of foreign students living in Japan, the coronavirus has had a disastrous effect on their lives, some losing their part-time job incomes due to business closures and others graduating in March ready to return home but with no flights to take them.

The Mainichi Shimbun spoke to two Vietnamese students about the hardship they're facing, unable to continue earning or even leave the country.

Bao Van Nguyen, 21, studies at a technical college in Tokyo, and lives in an apartment in Taito Ward with four other Vietnamese nationals. To make money to live and pay for his studies, he has worked part-time at izakaya pubs and at Japanese language schools, but because his places of employment have closed during the state of emergency, his monthly income of 100,000 yen has tumbled to around 30,000 yen.

He's also now spending more time at home, so his water and power bills are rising. There's a chance he will not be able to pay the rent next month. "To try not to use money, I sleep as much as I can. I have two meals a day," he said.

He says that if he can get the special cash payment of 100,000 yen that the government is distributing, then he'll be able to keep paying his bills for a few months, but there's no indication of when he'll even be able to apply. His school has started doing lessons online, so he had no choice but to sign up with a Wi-Fi service at home. He hopes to gain experience at an information technology-related business in Japan after graduation and then use what he's learned to help develop his home country, but "if things carry on like this, I'm not sure I can make my dreams happen," he said.

Anh Bui Ho Phuong, who graduated in March but was stranded in Japan after all flights were canceled due to the novel coronavirus, is seen in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on May 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

Anh Bui Ho Phuong, 26, graduated from a technical college in the capital in March, and had intended to return home shortly after. But then all the flights back to Vietnam were canceled. Her contract for her accommodation ended around the time she graduated, and she no longer has a student visa that would legally allow her to take on part-time work. Effectively, she lost her home and source of income simultaneously.

She stayed with a series of friends from Vietnam, and she only had enough money to eat one or two pieces of bread a day. "It was terrible being that hungry," she said. Her friends were struggling too, and she said she could only ask for so much help.

It was then that she sought assistance from the "Nichietsu Tomoiki Shienkai" (Japan-Vietnam coexistence support group) in Tokyo's Minato Ward, a nonprofit organization which specializes in helping Vietnamese technical interns and students. Thanks to them, she was able to receive aid until she can return home. "I might have ended up sleeping on the streets otherwise," she said.

The group's head, Jiho Yoshimizu, 50, said the organization is being approached by many Vietnamese students and others in poverty. Up to now the group has dispatched rice, instant noodles and masks to some 1,100 people, and has plans to send goods to about 1,400 more people.

"Many foreign students pay their tuition through money they earn themselves. The money from their part-time jobs also has to cover their living expenses, so they have no cash saved for the near future, which means they are in trouble," said Yoshimizu. "People who have no choice but to live on the street if they lose their accommodations are also under severe psychological stress."

She added that due to the risk of infections spreading, it's difficult for the group to accept all the calls for help they get from students and others, and maintained that the government and other official bodies should step in to offer strong support.

The Nichietsu Tomoioki Shienkai is calling for contributions and donations to obtain food for struggling Vietnamese students and other needy people. They can be contacted at 03-6432-4492 (Japanese language only).

(Japanese original by Yoshiya Goto, Photo and Video Center)

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