The number of foreign nationals detained by immigration officials for one year or more has dropped significantly since a more flexible approach was adopted in response to harsh criticism of long-term detentions, according to the Justice Ministry.
As of August, 167 foreigners at immigration facilities in Ibaraki, Osaka and Nagasaki prefectures had been held for at least six months, the ministry said Friday.
Many of them are believed to have overstayed their visas and were waiting to be deported or were seeking asylum in Japan.
Those who had been held for at least one year totaled 47, down sharply from 115 at the end of 2009. The ministry said that since July 2010 it has been actively releasing people who are subject to deportation when it sees no need to keep them in custody.
The United Nations in 2007 criticized Japan’s long-term detention of immigrants and recommended shorter periods of confinement, following a rash of suicides and hunger strikes at domestic immigration centers.
Support groups and lawyer associations have repeatedly called on the government to make improvements in the treatment of detainees. They argue that people held at immigration centers receive poor medical care, even though some detainees are suffering from serious illnesses.
Faced with claims that it was taking too long to conduct asylum reviews, the Justice Ministry adopted a target of processing them within six months.
As a result, the number of cases without any decision to grant asylum after six months dropped to 35 as of March 31 last year, a dramatic drop from the 612 cases at the end of June 2010.
In terms of the time taken to review asylum cases, immigration officials spent an average of 12.6 months between July and September 2010 and 14.4 months between October and December 2010 per case. But the periods were curtailed to 4.7 months and 5.2 months in the same periods last year.