Staff writer The Immigration Bureau’s Tokyo facility for holding foreigners who have overstayed their visas violates basic human rights, especially those of children, claims a Chinese family released last week after 40 days of detention there. Ling Xi Rang, 43, her second daughter, Xu Xiou Ri, 17, and 10-year-old son, Xu Bo Ping, whose visas expired in April 1990, were released on a provisional basis last Wednesday after being held at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward since Oct. 22. Ling’s 46-year-old husband, Xu Pang Qui, who was detained Aug. 25, is still being held at the bureau, while their first daughter, Xiou Jun, 20, was issued a student visa and exempted from detention. According to Katsuo Yoshinari, a member of a lawyers’ group supporting the family, the detention of children, which inevitably affects their schooling and separates them from parents, could violate the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan has signed. Xiou Ri and Bo Ping attend local schools. The family, which lives in the city of Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, came to Japan from China in 1988 on the father’s two-year student visa. They presented themselves to the bureau in 1997 to appeal to the justice minister for special permission to stay. Ling and the two children were detained Oct. 22, the day their amnesty appeal was rejected. “The facility, which is only supposed to prevent overstaying foreigners from running away during an investigation, was more like a tool to push them out of the country by harassing them and devastating their lives,” Xiou Ri said. She and her mother, unable to gather personal belongings before being detained, were packed into a 28.35-sq.-meter room with 16 other women of various nationalities, and the noise and dirty air posed sleeping problems. Ling said food supplied at the facility was cold and monotonous, prompting most detainees to leave their main dishes untouched and eat just rice mixed with soup. Detainees were only allowed 10 minutes twice a week to shower, spending most of their time in the windowless room, Ling said, adding that she did not see sunlight for the entire 40 days. With the stress of living in such conditions, Xiou Ri experienced severe skin problems and constipation. The son, who was held with his father in a separate cell for men, has asthma and suffered coughing fits and breathing problems because his cellmates frequently smoked. Several requests for a doctor to see the son and daughter were accepted only once, while medicine prescribed for them did not work, the family said. The time they were in detention was also psychologically demanding; they were forced to call the bureau officials “sensei” (instructor) and higher officials “boss,” and there was no consideration for privacy, they said. Kazuaki Fukuyama, an official at the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau, said the Itabashi facility was not originally designed to detain so many people for such a period of time. He said a new accommodation facility in Shinagawa Ward is planned. He also admitted that officials at the facility may occasionally treat the detainees in a harsh manner, citing language barriers and what he described as the detainees’ defiant attitudes, which he attributes to desperation over possible deportation. In addition to the poor living conditions they faced inside the facility, the family claimed their life outside was also affected. Because the family was frequently denied outside contact, Xiou Ri, in her third year in high school, missed an opportunity to apply to a college she had hoped to attend. The 1.3 million yen in bail required to secure their provisional release, meanwhile, poses a serious financial burden on a family whose main breadwinner is still in detention. Prior to their provisional release last week, the first daughter, Xiou Jun, and the lawyers’ group supporting the family submitted a petition to Justice Minister Hideo Usui to reconsider an earlier rejection of their appeal for special residency permits. Claiming the children are accustomed to life here and know almost nothing about the language and culture of their home country, the family asked the minister to issue amnesty for the sake of the children’s well-being. The son, who was born here and has yet to acquire any nationality, will face severe problems if he is sent to China, Ling said. Under the terms of their bail, they are required to visit the bureau every month, exposing themselves to the possibility of sudden deportation or another stay in detention. An increasing number of foreigners living long-term in Japan on expired visas, some of whom have had children here, have been applying for special permission for status as permanent residents. Like the Xu family, most arrived in Japan around 1990 — at the peak of the bubble economy — to make up for the country’s labor shortage. Permission for special residency, however, is rarely issued to foreigners without Japanese relatives.
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