• Kyodo

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At least 23 people held at a Justice Ministry immigration detention facility in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, tried to kill or harm themselves between March 2000 and last July, with one fatality, according to administrative data released at the request of Kyodo News.

Many of the detainees were held for entering Japan illegally or for staying in Japan in violation of the immigration law. Among the 23 were people seeking refugee status in Japan.

Supporters said refugee claimants have been complaining of being treated like criminals for long periods after fleeing their countries and risking their lives.

They said there have also been cases that have not been made public.

Human rights groups say Japan has disregarded the rights of detainees.

Michitsune Kusaka of the Osaka-based support group RINK said, “From talking to detainees, it is believed that there are a lot more cases in which detainees tried to commit suicide and self-harm.”

According to the data released, there were eight cases in which detainees hit their heads against walls or floors, and there were six who stabbed or cut themselves with sharp objects.

Detainees also swallowed harmful substances such as detergent.

In October 2001, a Vietnamese man in his 30s committed suicide by hanging himself with bed sheet.

Some detainees who attempted to harm or kill themselves were shackled and placed in isolation.

“Anxieties about being detained for an indefinite period, fears about deportation and strong reactions to detention are likely leading them to hurt themselves,” an official of the Social Action Center of the Catholic Archdiocese of Osaka said.

An official of the center said, “Detainees may have different feelings about their treatment, but we have been acting when there are requests.”

Shogo Watanabe, a lawyer with extensive experience in refugee issues, said, “The big problem is the fact that they are detained for an indefinite period.

“Feelings of despair and a sense that they are facing a deadlock have a considerable psychological impact on them,” Watanabe said. “The Justice Ministry should recognize the gravity of detaining a human being.”

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