National / Crime & Legal

Detainees launch hunger strike over conditions at Osaka immigration detention center

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

About 50 detainees being held at the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau went on a hunger strike Wednesday to protest what they call “inhumane” treatment by Immigration Bureau officials, a group supporting them said.

The detainees believe officials at the facility are using intentional mistreatment to make them want to return to their home countries, said Nobukazu Nagai of the detainee support group Provisional Release Association in Japan (PRAJ).

Those being held are mainly individuals who have been ordered to leave and are appealing their deportation ruling or asylum seekers whose applications are under consideration.

The government cannot force them to return home.

According PRAJ, one group of 25 detainees at the Osaka Immigration Bureau submitted a petition to officials on Jan. 6 asking them to improve conditions at the facility, citing insufficient medical services, unhealthy food and mental and physical distress caused by prolonged detention.

In response, officials on Jan. 19 said the detainees had already been offered proper medical treatment by doctors and they were not allowed to receive food from their supporters due to safety concerns, according to PRAJ.

Officials also said they would not allow the temporary release of detainees because they would then have even more reason not want to return to their home countries.

Another group of 27 detainees at the Osaka Immigration Bureau also submitted a similar petition on Jan. 22, which had not been commented on by officials as of last Friday.

Frustrated by the lack of response, the two groups decided to jointly launch an indefinite hunger strike until they receive a satisfactory answer, said Nagai.

In one complaint, a detainee who had previously suffered a mild cerebral infarction reportedly complained of severe headaches and experienced paralysis on the right side of the body in January.

Although the detainee and supporting parties requested that the person be examined by a doctor, the immigration bureau has so far refused to comply, the group said.

A spokesperson for the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau was not immediately able to confirm the story when contacted by The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Officials have reportedly said in the past detainees do not have the right to make demands due to their status, and they must follow the rules set by the bureaus.

The alleged maltreatment at the Osaka Immigration Bureau only became clear after the West Japan Immigration Control Center in the city of Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, shut down last September, Nagai said.

That is because detainees held by the Osaka Immigration Bureau were normally housed there for shorter periods of stay. But as a result of the Ibaraki facility’s closure, detainees have been forced to remain at the Osaka bureau, which was not built to accommodate people for long periods of time, he said.

Nagai said the Immigration Bureau is intentionally trying to cause physical and mental distress to get those held at the Osaka facility to voluntarily return to their home countries.

“It had been an old practice at immigration bureaus (in order to coerce detainees),” he said, adding that protests at the Osaka Immigration Bureau had not occurred extensively until now.


Update (Feb.12, 2016)
A spokesman at Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau confirmed Friday that 19 of the 75 detainees at the detention center were rejecting food provided by officials since Wednesday morning. But he also said it is not clear whether it is indeed a hunger strike, as some of them seem to be eating food they bought themselves. No health problems were confirmed as of Friday evening, the official said.