Vietnamese halt hunger strike at Osaka immigration facility

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Former Vietnamese boat people who staged a hunger strike inside the West Japan Immigration Center in Osaka Prefecture last week stopped their hunger strike Monday in response to repeated requests from their supporters, it was learned Wednesday.

Nearly two dozen Vietnamese began a hunger strike on June 8 to protest their indefinite detention at the center.

The hunger strikers, including one who has been at the center for more than two years, were once granted resident status in Japan, though this status was taken away by the government after they were sent to prison for committing crimes in Japan.

During the strike, many of the protesters refused to drink water and cut themselves, using their blood to write a letter of protest, according to their supporters.

The center on Monday released one of the detainees, who has been suffering from a mental illness. Despite his illness, he had been kept at the center since February 2003, apart from a brief stay at a mental hospital last October, the supporters said.

A senior official at the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau would not comment on the release, but denied that it was a result of the protest.

All of the hunger strikers have been convicted in Japan of criminal offenses including murder and theft. After being released from prison, they were ordered deported and placed in the detention center.

It is not yet clear whether they will be sent back to Vietnam, since Hanoi does not usually accept refugees who are unwilling to return, the ministry official said.