• Kyodo

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Amnesty International Japan said Wednesday it has asked the country’s immigration authorities to address the issue of the long-term detention of foreign nationals, which it claims undermines human rights.

The human rights organization submitted a petition to the Justice Ministry and the Immigration Services Agency of Japan asking them to comply with the principle of nonrefoulement that forbids the deportation of individuals in danger of persecution.

It urged the Japanese government to set maximum confinement periods and keep those terms at an absolute minimum, with the country already planning to revise the immigration law in response to criticism of its long-term detention of foreign nationals who refuse to accept deportation.

Japan is considering allowing foreign nationals applying for refugee status to be released and providing financial support to help them cover basic living costs.

The group submitted 17,571 signatures urging the Japanese government to accept more asylum-seekers and stop long-term detention.

“Japan has an international obligation to protect refugees and asylum-seekers,” Hideaki Nakagawa, executive director of Amnesty International Japan, said in a news conference.

Japan began reviewing the detention rules following the death in June last year of a Nigerian man in his 40s who went on hunger strike over his prolonged detention at an immigration center in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Some immigration centers have allowed detainees out on short-term provisional release to halt protests and hunger strikes, only to detain them again a couple of weeks later, according to the group.

Amnesty International Japan called on the government to halt such actions but was informed by the immigration agency’s Commissioner Shoko Sasaki when submitting the petition that the facilities had already ceased such treatment, the group said.

Although the amount of time a foreign national can be legally detained by immigration authorities differs by nation, Japan does not stipulate a limit.

The country does not distinguish between individual cases, with all detainees confined regardless of their situation in principle.

“Individuals should only be detained when they lack a passport or identification and need to be properly identified, or if they are a flight risk,” campaign coordinator Toshiki Higuchi said at the news conference.

As of June last year, the number of foreigners detained in immigration centers across Japan totaled 1,253, of whom 679, or 54%, had been in detention for over six months and 251, or 20%, had been confined for more than two years, according to the group.

The facilities recorded a total seven deaths and 222 incidents of self-harm among detainees between 2015 and 2019, it said.

Despite Japan’s notoriously low refugee recognition rate, which has fallen below 1% since 2012, a government panel of experts has recommended to the Justice Ministry that some asylum-seekers, such as those who repeatedly file the same claims, be subject to deportation. There are also concerns that the handling of some cases may contravene the principle of nonrefoulement.

“We were able to deliver our opinions ahead of the legal amendments,” Nakagawa said, noting the requests were submitted in time for the ordinary parliamentary session starting in January.

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