June 27, 2020 at 13:15 JST
The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
A large number of foreign nationals subject to deportation for overstaying their visas among other reasons often end up in immigration detention centers for months or even years.
This is a serious problem that requires a swift and effective policy response.
A dedicated committee to advise on the issue set up under a personal advisory council for the justice minister drew up a set of proposals to address the problem.
Some of those ordered to be deported have special circumstances that deserve consideration; for example, some detainees have families in Japan, while others are already set down roots here, not in their native countries.
Japan's immigration detention policy needs reforming in line with basic human rights principles. All those who deserve protection should be duly protected, and the human rights of detainees must be respected.
As of the end of 2019, 1,054 foreign nationals were held in immigration detention centers in Japan. More than 40 percent had been detained for more than six months, and longer than three years in 63 cases.
In June 2019, a Nigerian man died of starvation after staging a hunger strike to protest his long detention at an immigration facility in Nagasaki Prefecture. This was a tragedy.
The Immigration Services Agency of Japan blames long detention periods on a legal provision that bans deportation of refugee claimants. The agency says some detainees abuse this rule by applying for refugee status repeatedly.
The panel called on the government to consider changing the rule to allow for deportation of detainees who make fresh applications for refugee status after their initial claims are dismissed and no new circumstances arise that need to be taken into account.
Japan has long been criticized for its zeal in rejecting most applications for refugee status. Japan's dismal refugee acceptance record argues against describing all repeated applications for refugee status as "abuse" of the rule.
In fact, eight of the 90 people who were recognized as refugees in the three years through 2018 received a deportation order before their claims were accepted due to changes in their circumstances or other reasons.
During the same period, 85 foreign nationals facing deportation were eventually allowed to remain in Japan for "humanitarian reasons."
This shows that people's circumstances can change at any time.
Another dedicated committee under the justice minister's personal advisory council that deals with the issue of refugee recognition urged the government six years ago to establish a system to allow foreign nationals to stay in Japan who need international protection, even if they do not qualify as refugees under related international treaties.
After six years of inaction, the government should first take steps to put this recommendation into practice.
The proposals concerning immigration detention from the dedicated committee include punishing acts of rejecting deportation. But this measure would not fix the problem of long detention. It could even compound the problem if supporters who provide housing and food to detainees are accused of "complicity."
Some of the proposals, however, should be implemented swiftly. One would create a system to determine whether a person's immigration detention should be continued after a certain period. The government should consider measures for greater flexibility, such as allowing detainees to live outside detention centers if approved by an independent body to review such cases.
Many immigration detainees have blended into Japanese society and supported its functions.
The government has started policy efforts to accept more foreign workers while keeping the country's door shut to such human resources. It is time for the government to make a sweeping review of its inconsistent immigration policy.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 25
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