National

Passport confiscation policy should remain in place: Foreign Ministry

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

The government should maintain its policy of confiscating passports of Japanese nationals seeking to enter a foreign country or area controlled by extremists if it would put their life at risk, according to a new Foreign Ministry report.

In light of the hostage crisis earlier this year in which two Japanese were killed by the Islamic State militant group, a team of ministry officials headed by Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Kazuyuki Nakane compiled a set of safety measures for Japanese nationals living overseas or traveling abroad.

The report, submitted to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, says the government can order a person to surrender their passport to prevent that individual from traveling abroad if authorities decide such a move “would likely pose an imminent threat to the life of the person due to capture by Islamic extremists, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” another name for the Islamic State group.

“We need to fully respect the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, including the freedom to travel,” Nakane told reporters. “On the other hand, the government has a critical role to secure the safety of the Japanese nationals traveling abroad and living overseas.”

Prior to issuing such an order on a case-by-case basis, the government will work to further notify the public of travel advisories and warnings, Nakane added.

The passport law stipulates that the Foreign Minister can order someone to surrender their passport for the protection of life or assets “in cases where there is a need to cancel a trip abroad.”

In February, the Foreign Ministry confiscated the passport of a Niigata-based freelance photographer who was planning to go to Syria, where the two Japanese nationals were beheaded by Islamic State fighters.

It was the first time that the passport law provision had been invoked since the Constitution came into force about 70 years ago.

The report stresses that safety measures for Japanese expatriates and travelers need to be implemented based on the idea that Japanese could be the target of terrorism in any part of the world, not only in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Among other measures, the ministry will improve its delivery of urgent security information to expatriates and expand a system to inquire about their safety through a cellphone text messaging service. It also plans to set up a call center at the ministry to answer inquiries around the clock from Japanese nationals caught in an emergency.

Furthermore, the ministry will strengthen safety measures at overseas schools for Japanese students. There are 89 such schools around the world with about 21,000 students, according to the report.

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