All 23 Afghan asylum seekers detained at the government’s immigration center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, have been provisionally released as of Friday, their lawyers said.

This is the result of both a district court ruling that suspended the detention of some of the Afghans and approval by the Justice Ministry of provisional release for the others.

According to the lawyers, most of the 23 Afghans are of the minority Hazara ethnic group. They applied for refugee status in Japan claiming they face persecution by the now-toppled Taliban regime at home.

However, they were caught on suspicion of violating immigration laws around the time of the September terrorist attacks in the United States and had been detained under order of deportation.

Some have attempted suicide while others suffered deteriorated health, the lawyers said.

A Tokyo District Court ruling in November ordered the release of five of the detainees, saying it is against the international convention on refugees’ status to detain asylum seekers. However, the decision was later overturned by the Tokyo High Court and the five were again detained.

Another district court ruling in March ordered the release of seven of them. The Justice Ministry approved provisional release for the other 16 detainees one by one after this ruling.

Immigration law allows the ministry to grant detainees provisional release at its discretion. But it is rare for the ministry to release so many detainees successively, given that there were only about 40 detainees granted provisional release during the four years up to last year.

“We make decisions on each case after a comprehensive review of health conditions and other factors of individual detainees,” a Justice Ministry official said. “Many were released as a result.”

The 23 Afghans have also filed suits demanding nullification of deportation orders. Depending on the rulings on these cases, they may again be detained for deportation.

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