Supporters of detainees who staged a nearly two-week hunger strike at the Tokyo immigration center criticized immigration authorities on Thursday and urged Japan to respect the human rights of detainees.

The bureau should restrict prolonged or consecutive detentions, Mitsuru Miyasako, director of the Provisional Release Association in Japan, said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. The hunger strike at the Tokyo immigration center in Shinagawa Ward ended Tuesday.

According to Miyasako, up to about 70 detainees — including people of Iranian, Turkish and Vietnamese descent — refused to eat their meals and demanded that Japan revise its policies on extended or consecutive detentions.

He said 22 detainees initiated the strike on May 9, sparking similar protests from 30 detainees at another facility in Nagoya.

At its peak, 100 detainees were participating in the mass protest, Miyasako said.

“The No. 1 goal of the hunger strike was to end the practice of repeated detainment. These refugees and immigrants who have received exclusion orders must suffer long and grueling periods of detention before they are given provisional release,” Miyasako told the audience at the FCCJ.

“Even if they have received permission to be released provisionally, the application for asylum or special permission to stay in Japan will not be approved for long periods,” he said.

This has led the number of provisional release to historic highs, prompting the immigration bureau to conduct consecutive detainments, he said.

Shoichi Ibuski, a lawyer and a representative of Lawyers Network for Foreign Workers who has expertise in human rights issues, also spoke at the news conference.

“All human beings should have their human rights protected. But currently under Japanese law, the human rights of those without resident status are not protected,” Ibuski said, explaining that when the immigration bureau issues an exclusion order, it still has the right to detain a person indefinitely — theoretically for 100 years.

“I recently spoke with one of the participants in the hunger strike, who said to me the reason for his participation is because the immigration bureau was not treating him as a human being,” he said.

According to the Justice Ministry, there were 3,555 foreign nationals last year under provisional release. That’s a fivefold increase from 10 years ago.

The ministry will hold a campaign from June 1 to 30 aimed at business operators to promote awareness that hiring foreign nationals without appropriate work permits is against the law. It will also urge police and local governments to crack down on illegal immigrants, as many under provisional release were found to be working without permits.

At a press briefing at the Justice Ministry on Wednesday, an immigration official explained that the consecutive detentions are conducted to deport illegal immigrants. The number of people under provisional release have dropped from 3,606 in 2015 to 3,555 in 2016 due to deportation, the official said.

Asked by The Japan Times how the bureau would respond to the hunger strike, the official said they must “strengthen repatriation.” However, the official added that they will work toward establishing a healthier environment at detention centers.

According to the ministry, Japan accepted only 28 refugees in 2016, though the number from overseas who applied for that status hit a record high of 10,901, up 44 percent from the previous year.

“It’s true that people can apply over and over again for asylum. But I think that the main problem is the huge amount of evidence that the government requires asylum seekers to provide,” Miyasako of PRAJ said.

“It’s unlikely that asylum seekers would have the ability to bring all the evidence with them when they flee from their country,” he said.

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