2 ‘Ukrainian evacuees’ disappear from eastern Japanese town suspected of abusing support program

A suburban area in the city of Shibukawa, Gunma prefecture, is seen in this photo from May 30, 2022. It was in this area that the two women had been staying as Ukrainian evacuees. (Mainichi/Tetsuya Shoji)

SHIBUKAWA, Gunma – Two women who arrived in Japan as evacuees from Ukraine under the Russian invasion have disappeared from a shelter in the city of Shibukawa, Gunma prefecture, multiple sources have revealed. of the case at the Mainichi Shimbun.

The women – said to be a mother in her 50s and a child in her 30s – apparently disappeared after getting into trouble with their surety when he asked them to show their passports. The couple are believed to have returned to Ukraine.

Although the reason for their disappearance is unknown, the case raises the possibility that Japan’s support system for Ukrainian evacuees is being abused.

According to the sources, the two women arrived in Japan on May 14 via Poland with the help of a non-profit organization incorporated in the city of Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, which helps Ukrainian evacuees. to cover their travel and living expenses. The surety voluntarily took on the role after being introduced to the couple by the non-profit group. He covered some 300,000 yen (about $2,200) for their travel expenses and offered them accommodation in a building in Shibukawa. Travel expenses were to be reimbursed later.

The Japanese government has greatly simplified visa application procedures for Ukrainian evacuees and allowed them to enter Japan on a 90-day short-stay visa. As this can then be replaced by a “designated activities” status which allows them to work for up to a year if they wish, it was expected that the parent-child pair would apply for such a change in status after apparently entered Japan on short-term visas.

On May 19, the surety asked the couple to present their passports, which were required in visa procedures and when making arrangements with the nonprofit. However, they refused to show their passports and abruptly disappeared. After receiving a report, a Shibukawa municipal government official took the couple into custody in the city later the same day.

The couple then stayed near Tokyo and elsewhere before apparently returning to Ukraine in June, according to another person familiar with the matter.

“I saw photos that were uploaded by someone believed to be the couple on social media, and they appeared to be enjoying sightseeing near Tokyo. I wonder if they were really evacuees” , the individual told the Mainichi. A representative from the non-profit group that coordinated them also revealed, “We didn’t thoroughly verify their identities, nor were we sure the names they were using were their real names.”

The city government, which collected donations to support Ukrainian evacuees, had planned to help the couple, but a representative from the city’s policy department commented: “The city government has not been directly involved in the couple’s acceptance, and we cannot comment on the matter for reasons such as protecting their privacy.”

There have been reports across Japan of issues involving the acceptance of Ukrainian evacuees into local communities.

Motohiro Ono, chairman of the Japan-Ukraine Cultural Exchange Association based in Yao City, Osaka Prefecture, who has interacted with Ukraine for more than 15 years, said: “There are cases where people posing as evacuees enter Japan despite their true purpose It is not uncommon for evacuees to have prepared their return tickets for use three months in advance, even though they had supposedly evacuated to Japan due to the Russian invasion. The parties receiving them must confirm whether they are really being evacuated.

(Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Bureau Maebashi)

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