The Immigration Bureau said Friday that a number of detainees at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau are on hunger strike.
A support group working with the detainees said their main demand was that Japan revise its policy, especially in regard to prolonged or consecutive detentions.
According to the bureau, which is overseen by the Justice Ministry, 560 detainees are being held at the Tokyo facility in Minato Ward and at least 20 were on hunger strike as of Friday noon.
But Kazuyuki Tokui, an official at the bureau’s security division, said that some were seen consuming food bought with their pocket money.
“We are carefully responding to the situation and keeping an eye open for those who may become sick,” he said, noting that none were reported to be ill as of midday Friday.
The bureau is talking with each detainee taking part to understand his or her objectives and to further grasp the situation, he said.
But what the support group claimed seems to be much more serious.
Mitsuru Miyasako, head of Provisional Release Association in Japan, the group working closely with the detainees, claimed that 40 detainees — double the number claimed by the bureau — have been on hunger strike since Tuesday, including some who are refusing to drink water. One protester allegedly became ill on Thursday night.
Those taking part in the strike are asylum seekers or others who have lived here for decades as migrant workers, he said.
On a written notice obtained by PRAJ, protesters claimed that the hunger strike “will continue unabated” until their human rights concerns are properly addressed.
It demanded that the immigration bureau not conduct repeated or prolonged detainment and forced deportations. Tokui said the bureau was not aware of any such demands.
Miyasako said the Tokyo immigration branch is tightening its policy by increasing consecutive detentions.
“Long-term detainment is hard even just one time, but that has been repeated two or three times,” said Miyasako, explaining that detention of more than six months is not rare, and that one of the hunger strikers has been held for over a year.
“For them, it’s an intolerable violation of human rights,” he said.
According to the Justice Ministry, Japan accepted only 28 refugees in 2016, though the number from overseas who applied for that status hit a record high of 10,901, up 44 percent from the previous year.