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Japan's local bodies accepting Ukrainian evacuees struggling to figure out how to help

Ukrainian evacuees who arrived at Haneda Airport by Japanese government aircraft are seen on the afternoon of April 5, 2022. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- Twenty evacuees from Ukraine arrived here by Japanese government aircraft on April 5. Thus far, over 400 evacuees had come to Japan depending on their friends and family who live here. But in the latest cohort that arrived, many do not have anyone to rely on in Japan. There are various challenges, such as looking for work and Japanese language education, and the local government bodies that are accepting the evacuees are grappling to find their way.

    Shortly after 2:30 p.m. on April 5, evacuees who arrived at Tokyo's Haneda Airport by Japanese government airplane headed to immigration looking nervous. Of the 20 who arrived, 15 were women, and there were small children carrying big backpacks as well. After they tested negative for the coronavirus, those who had family or friends in Japan got on their way via public transportation and other means, while those who do not know anyone in Japan were taken to temporary accommodations at hotels, where they will wait until the local government bodies that will accept them are decided.

    Multiple local government bodies, including Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, have expressed their desire to accept evacuees from Ukraine.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which has already accepted seven groups of evacuees for a total of 12 people, is making efforts to ascertain what the evacuees' needs are. Among the 371 calls that were made to a hotline set up for the evacuees, questions about housing were the most common. The metropolitan government has already secured 100 units of Tokyo-operated public housing, and is planning to expand that number to a maximum of 700 depending on demand.

    Additionally, there are evacuees under the age of 10, who will need support going to school and acquiring Japanese language skills. The metropolitan government is considering expanding its assistance, but an official in charge of such efforts said, "There is a limit to what Tokyo and its wards, cities and towns can do on their own. We'd like the Japanese government to introduce a scheme so that we do not see gaps in assistance."

    In the Tokyo suburb of Komae, the local government has announced that it will provide a one-time handout of 100,000 yen (about $807) to each Ukrainian national who has evacuated within its borders. It will also consider hiring evacuees as temp workers of the city if evacuees need to find jobs. It is also eyeing the possibility of renting out equipment that translates Ukrainian, and the possible provision of financial assistance for medical care and child-rearing costs.

    There already is a woman in her 70s who moved to Komae depending on her family, and the Komae city official stresses that the next challenge is to prevent evacuees from becoming isolated. The city is thinking about creating ways for evacuees to interact with local residents, and to grow used to life there.

    What kind of assistance do the evacuees need the most right now?

    Anastasiia Fukaya, 24, who is from Ukraine and lives in the Saitama Prefecture city of Koshigaya north of Tokyo, says that securing residences and health care, and support for finding work are crucial. Fukaya's mother in her 50s is expected to arrive in Japan via Poland from southern Ukraine, and she cannot help but be worried.

    Fukaya said that the biggest concern is language. One cannot open a bank account or file documents at the local government office without being able to speak Japanese. Additionally, Japan's national health insurance does not kick in until three months after one has been in the country, so if one falls ill or suffers an injury before three months have passed, there is a possibility that they could be charged high medical fees, prompting Fukaya to stress the need for assistance on the health care front.

    (Japanese original by Ai Kunimoto and Hitomi Saikawa, Tokyo City News Department; Shohei Kato, Tokyo Bureau, and Yusuke Kato, Machida Resident Bureau)

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