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Hundreds of people formed a human chain in front of the Justice Ministry on Wednesday, seeking to draw attention to the plight of more than 1,000 foreigners held at detention centers across the country in connection with immigration procedures.

The rally comes amid protests by human rights lawyers and campaigners in Japan over what they describe as undue, lengthy detention periods faced by these foreigners.

The campaigners are also calling on the Justice Ministry to create a more open and multicultural society, with particular regard to the interests of asylum-seekers.

Organizers said they called on 600 people to show up for the protest — the number required to form a human chain spanning the length of the ministry building, according to the organizers.

More than 600 people turned up, said Kanae Doi, a Tokyo lawyer who led the campaign.

Standing in front of the crowd, Doi called on the authorities to make Japan “a country that respects human rights.”

She voiced hope that the first attempt to make a human chain on this scale would mark a “step forward” in terms of effecting positive changes to the ministry’s immigration policies.

According to ministry statistics, 523,617 people were detained in 2003 at immigration detention centers located in areas such as Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture. Organizers said this works out to an average 1,435 people detained on a daily basis.

As part of their protest, the activists also submitted a four-point written request to the justice minister aimed at halting unnecessary or indefinite detention periods — especially of asylum-seekers, people with families, children, elderly people, pregnant women and sick people.

They also demanded that special consideration be given to children, families and asylum-seekers in Japan, which is known for its strict anti-immigration policies.

Moreover, the campaigners advocated policies aimed at achieving a multicultural and multiethnic society, as well as local legislation to ban discrimination.

After delivering their written requests and meeting with ministry officials, Shogo Watanabe, who is a member of a lawyers’ group representing refugees from Myanmar, told the crowd that they raised the issue of foreigners who end up being detained for too long, leading some to commit suicide.

At the rally were a number of Myanmarese, Afghan and Kurdish asylum-seekers and other human rights organizations such as the Asian People’s Friendship Society and Amnesty International Japan.

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