Photo/IllutrationRooms for detainees line the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Kimihiko Sato)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A growing number of foreigners are being detained in Justice Ministry facilities for six months or longer for such reasons as illegally staying in Japan after the expiration of their visas.

The increase is partly attributable to the ministry tightening the screenings for “temporary release,” which allowed some foreigners to live outside the facilities.

As of the end of July, more than 700 people had been detained for six months or longer.

Some have attempted or committed suicide. However, the ministry can’t find solutions to the problem.

According to the ministry, there are 17 facilities in Japan that detain foreigners illegally staying in Japan. In 2017, 18,633 people were newly placed into the facilities.

Deportation procedures are started if the detainees agree to them. If they fight deportation or if their mother countries refuse to issue passports to them, there are no other options.

Among 1,133 foreigners who were under detention as of the end of 2016, 313, or 28 percent, had been detained for six months or longer. In 2017, the number and the percentage rose. As of the end of that year, 576 of 1,351 foreigners, or 43 percent, were such long-term detainees.

The number and the percentage rose sharply this year. As of the end of July, 709 of 1,309 foreigners, or 54 percent, were long-term detainees. Some had been detained for more than five years.

According to Hiroshi Kimizuka, a senior official of the ministry’s Immigration Bureau, one of the reasons for the increase of foreigners under long-term detention is an incident that occurred in 2010.

That year, the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau ordered a 45-year-old Ghana national to be deported. However, the man died in an airplane while being deported.

Later, it was revealed that the man had been gagged, bound, and forced into a position with his body bent forward.

After the incident, the ministry did not deport foreigners for nearly three years. Even after the ministry resumed deportations, the number of detainees who refused deportation increased.

In addition, it became known that if they applied for refugee status, they would not be deported until the results of their application were known. Subsequently, the number of applications increased.

In 2017, 19,628 foreigners applied for refugee status. However, only 20 were granted the status.

The sharp increase in the number of long-term detainees is also attributable to the fact that the number of foreigners allowed to live outside detention facilities under temporary release for humanitarian reasons is decreasing.

The decrease started after the ministry tightened the screenings for temporary release in 2015 after the number of foreigners on temporary release increased and some became involved in criminal activities.

As of the end of 2015, 3,606 foreigners were under temporary release. As of the end of 2017, however, the corresponding figure was 3,106.

Following the increase in the number of long-term detainees, some attempted or committed suicide.

In April, a man from India, who had been detained in the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, for about nine months, committed suicide by hanging himself in a shower room.

In May, a Brazilian of Japanese ancestry aged in the 40s, a Cameroonian in his 30s and a Turk of Kurdish ancestry in his 20s tried to kill themselves one after another at the center.

“The most effective method to decrease the number of long-term detainees is deportation,” Kimizuka said.