Immigration detainees end hunger strike

Osaka center staff to meet inmates

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OSAKA — Human rights activists said Sunday that around 70 detainees at the West Japan Immigration Control Center stopped their 11-day hunger strike Friday evening after the center reportedly agreed to meet with both detainees and activists Tuesday.

“The detainees decided to suspend their hunger strike temporarily and had dinner Friday. Volunteers and detainees are going to negotiate with the center starting from Tuesday, but if their demands are turned down, they will restart the hunger strike,” said Hiromi Sano, one of the volunteer activists. She added, however, that as of Sunday afternoon, no definite time for the meeting had been set.

An official at the Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, facility who was reached by phone Sunday afternoon would not comment, saying there was no one around to provide further information on the holiday weekend.

The hunger strike began on the evening of March 8 after about 80 detainees refused to return to their cells and barricaded themselves in a shower room until center officials, allegedly using a chain saw, opened the door and got them out.

More than 70 then launched the hunger strike, demanding to know why their requests for temporary release had not been granted. Some detainees at the center have been held for more than a year as their requests for asylum wind their way through the courts.

Sano said one of the major reasons why immigration officials changed their minds and agreed to negotiate was because a politician raised the matter at a meeting if the Upper House Judicial Affairs Committee on March 16.

Justice Minister Keiko Chiba said at the meeting that 71 detainees were refusing to eat and that the reasons for the hunger strike were being investigated. He also said the issue of temporary release had to treated carefully.

“We have to thoroughly discuss the issue of temporary release for long-term detainees, and the reasons for deciding whether to grant such release,” Chiba said.

The hunger strike was brought up by Azuma Konno of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, who noted that the West Japan facility had been the site of temporary release and other troubling disputes in the past.

On Jan. 1, 2008, an Indian detainee was found dead in the center after allegedly committing suicide, while between 2000 and 2004, a Kyodo News investigation found that 23 detainees had attempted suicide.

“Unless there is a strong policy for dealing with the issue of temporary release applications, (hunger strikes) could be repeated,” Konno said.

In addition, the timing of a United Nations visit may have prodded the center into agreeing to the Tuesday meeting.

Jorge Bustamante, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, will meet in Tokyo on Wednesday with former detainees who waged hunger strikes.