Human rights abuses against foreigners in detention rises in Japan


The Immigration Services Agency of Japan’s policy of keeping foreigners in Japan in long-term detention over visa violations has reached the point that a detainee at one facility was reported to have starved to death.

In the agency’s report on the first known starvation death at one of its facilities, it ignored accusations of human rights infringements, while maintaining that there had been no problem with the way it had responded to the case.

Foreign nationals who lose status of residence in Japan are subject to detention and subsequent deportation proceedings. People continue to be kept in custody even when their removal from the country has no clear path to resolution, or is far off.

In October, a government panel of experts met to examine immigration detentions, amid heightening concern that severe practices could become baked into the system.

The experience of detainees has corroborated remarks given by then Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai at an Oct. 4 press conference, when he said the ministry would be making changes to toughen up guarantor vetting and reviewing the security deposit amounts.

A supporter of the detainees said, “I’ve heard that, when another foreigner was granted temporary release, the official in charge said, ‘This time it’s 500,000 yen, but next time it’ll be (the maximum) 3 million yen.’ Hearing that amount after they’d struggled to get even 500,000 yen together led them to despair.”

In the period around these changes, the Immigration Services Agency released a document on Oct. 1 concerning “The reality of deportation evaders.” It was released on the same day that the death by starvation case at Omura Immigration Center was announced.

The report reads, “In cases where all deportation procedural steps have been exhausted, speedy deportation is the desired outcome.” Even though there are foreign nationals who wish to remain here, due to fears they could be persecuted in their home country, or because they have family living in Japan, the government is emphasizing that deportations should be accelerated to reduce long-term detainee numbers.

Additionally, on Oct. 21 the agency held its first meeting of a special committee of experts tasked with investigating measures against lengthening detentions. At the meeting, discussions commenced on potential new provisions such as creating new penalties to encourage faster deportation.

According to the report, as of the end of June some 858 of the 1,147 people in detention were classed as “deportation evaders.” It also said that 43% of that number had been found guilty of crimes at some point in the past. The report declares that the temporary release of people with criminal records “is not something that should be accepted from the point of view of maintaining the safety and security of our country. They must be deported as soon as possible.”

By disseminating the impression that “foreigners are scary” across the media and through other channels, it is transparently the case that the immigration agency is trying to legitimize its handling of detentions.

Masako Suzuki, a lawyer and expert on the human rights of foreign nationals, said, “It’s like they’re saying that people who have been punished for crimes in the past ‘might do something bad, so let’s detain them.’ Japan’s legal code doesn’t allow for this kind of logic.

“For precisely that reason, the Immigration Services Agency would never explain it that way in court.”

According to the International Covenants on Human Rights, physical restraint, in other words detention, for immigration control must meet certain requirements to be valid, such as a court decision or a logical or necessary reason.

Following the Immigration Services Agency’s expert committee meeting, the Tokyo Bar Association released a statement on Oct. 31 under the name of its president Chikara Shinozuka. The statement called for drastic discussions from the viewpoint of human rights protections, and making the committee meetings and their minutes public. (Source: The Mainichi Japan)