In a move lawyers and activists denounced as “inhumane,” Japan deported 26 Sri Lankans and six Vietnamese on Thursday, including a “sizable” number of denied applicants.

It was the third round of mass deportations conducted using a specially chartered plane, the Justice Ministry and a support group said Friday.

It is believed to be the first time the government has deported asylum seekers and visa overstayers using the same flight, the immigrants’ lobby group Provisional Release Association in Japan (PRAJ) said.

The program of mass deportations began in July 2013 as a cost-cutting initiative.

Lawyers blasted the move as dangerous for the individuals involved because some of them, including at least one political dissident, presented a “fairly believable” story of persecution.

The 32 people deported Thursday were mostly men and ranged in age from 25 to 64.

The former asylum seekers were deported after the government, notorious for its conservative assessment of cases, determined they did not qualify for refugee status, rejecting each individual’s application twice.

After being notified of their second rejection, asylum seekers are usually given six months to consider filing a lawsuit aimed at getting the state to reverse its decision. But the deportation Thursday deprived them of any chance to even resort to the judiciary: At least one individual was notified that the second application had failedonly a few days previously.

This, although not illegal, is sufficiently problematic to raise concerns about abuse of power by the government, the lawyers said.

PRAJ’s investigations revealed that at least some of the deported individuals had made convincing cases for being recognized as refugees. They included an anti-government activist who has mounted protests outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in Tokyo, said the PRAJ.

“Even though these people were deemed ineligible for refugee status by the government and deporting them is not illegal, the fact remains that they face great danger of persecution by their government back home — for reasons such as their political activities,” said Hiromi Takahashi, a lawyer and adviser to PRAJ.

In that sense, compared with the past two rounds of mass deportations, Thursday’s move posed a “significantly higher” threat to the wellbeing of the deportees, Takahashi said.

The previous rounds saw Filipinos and Thais sent home, the majority of whom were believed to be visa overstayers.

An immigration official declined to comment on individual cases, only adding: “Since those people were officially found ineligible to claim refugee status by (our process), we believe there is no problem in sending them back home.”

A 38-year-old Filipino woman, who cohabited with and has an 11-month daughter with a Sri Lankan man she is not married to, said the sudden repatriation had torn the family asunder.

“Our daughter will be in trouble without him,” she told reporters Friday, before being overcome by tears.

The group asked that the exact number of former asylum seekers in the group not be reported, citing privacy concerns. The ministry did not confirm the information.

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