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Japan offers $1.08 to the laborers it conscripted

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Dec 26,2009
Former South Korean forced laborer Yang Geum-deok, 81, who worked at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, cries during a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Thursday. Japan has paid 99 yen as part of a welfare pension refund to seven South Korean women who were forced to work during the 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, local media reported. [AP]
The Japanese government fanned anger among Koreans after news came this week that it sent 99 yen ($1.08), or 1,280 won, in welfare pension refunds to Koreans who were used as forced laborers during the Japanese colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

The workers and their advocates at an association of victims of the Japanese colonial period harshly criticized the Japanese decision.

The atmosphere at a press conference in front of the Japanese Embassy quickly turned emotional when Yang Geum-deok, 78, and Kim Seong-ju, 81, two of the forced laborers, cried out on Christmas Eve.

“Give me back my youth, you thieves!” said Yang angrily.

As Yang knelt and cried, some 20 other victims and activists said they reject taking the pensions.

Yang, who was taken to Japan to work for over a year, said she cannot help but feel infuriated by the Japanese government’s decision.

“I want Japanese government’s apology and I want my pension fund back,” Yang said.

“I was told that if I worked in Japan I could study in middle and high schools and earn money,” Kim said. “I worked at a factory without sleep but never received a penny. I demanded my salary and they said the money would be wired when I went back to my country. But I never heard from them for 64 years.”

In addition to Yang and Kim, five other women filed lawsuits against the Japanese government in 1998, demanding the pension they earned from October 1944 to August 1945 while they worked at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Eleven years later, Japan paid each woman 99 yen.

Japan’s Social Insurance Agency said the pension was calculated based on the wage the victims had received at the time of their service. They said the decision was based on the country’s pension law.

According to the association, 227,984 filed damage reports with the association. It sent a request to the Japanese government to confirm whether 40,000 out of the 227,984 had applied for their pensions. There are 110,000 who lack documents proving that they are eligible for the pension, so the association decided to seek verification. The association, however said Tokyo has remained silent.

Experts expressed concern that it’s uncertain whether the victims would receive suitable compensation from both the Korean and Japanese governments.

Though Japan acknowledges taking Koreans into forced labor, it maintains it’s not accountable for the action.

Once victims are confirmed by the Japanese government to be eligible for the pension, the Korean government will provide compensation under the law concerning assistance for forced labor victims. But those lacking documentation will be unable to receive the Korean government’s compensation without confirmation by the Japanese government.

“Japan’s Social Insurance Agency paid 99 yen to forced labor workers and that goes against the Japanese government’s position that it’s not responsible for the forced labor workers,” Choi Bong-tae, a lawyer said. “The two governments need to work together to find a way to help the victims.”


By Jeong Seon-eon, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]





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