Kilic Metin came to Japan in 1997 after fleeing Turkey, where the 48-year-old Kurd felt his life was in danger after he was suspected of having ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, labeled by his government as a terrorist organization. But authorities in Japan have rejected his request for asylum five times.
As Japan beefs up security ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, more people who are staying in the country illegally have been put back in detention centers after being conditionally released, government data has shown.
Over a recent five-year period, the number of overstayers jumped fourfold, partly because some released individuals violated a prohibition on working. But their supporters call the treatment inhumane given that many of them are asylum seekers who cannot live without a job.
“How can I live without working?” said Metin, who was released in December after re-detention.
The government’s move could be seen as an attempt to tighten control over asylum seekers. Japan is often criticized internationally for being closed to refugees. In 2016, the country recognized only 28 people as refugees, a mere 0.3 percent of the applicants.
Those who have no status of residence and are subject to deportation are temporarily detained in principle. They are not immediately repatriated if their home countries refuse to accept them or if they seek refugee status.
Some of those held are provisionally released from detention centers depending on their detention period, physical condition and other factors. Release is allowed on the condition that they will not work, according to Justice Ministry officials. They are put back in detention if their asylum requests are rejected or if they are found to be working.
But the authorities — apparently recognizing the reality faced by asylum seekers who need to earn an income — had not strictly implemented the rules until recently.
The ministry data showed that the number of those who were re-detained rose to 474 in 2016 from 121 in 2012. As of September 2017, the figure stood at 434. The number of detainees who were provisionally released increased to 3,555 at the end of 2016 from 2,645 four years earlier. About half of those released in 2016 were applying for asylum status.
The ministry has been increasing oversight of the provisional release system. It has set up a 50-member section within the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau to watch over their lives — including home visits.
“If crimes committed by foreign residents increase, it could pour cold water on the Olympics,” a ministry official said. But the official admitted that there is no specific data showing that illegal immigrants are pushing up the number of crimes.
In December, the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees demanded that the ministry stop investigating the living conditions of the released overstayers in an invasive manner, saying the conduct is causing distress to asylum seekers.
Last August, Metin was put back in detention as he was unable to extend the term of his provisional release. He said he was discovered working at a construction firm when immigration officers visited the company for an investigation.
He is now living at an apartment in Saitama Prefecture. He said he cannot work amid fears of being detained yet again and cannot send any money to his impoverished family in Turkey. He also said he lost 6 kg while in detention.
Many released illegal immigrants have trouble making a living and some have committed suicide, according to supporters.
“Prohibiting them from working is a violation of human rights that deprives them of the right to live,” one of the supporters said.