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A growing number of foreign detainees have been released temporarily from detention centers across the country under a provisional release program to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading.

But many have been left without means of support, as they are prohibited from working and are not eligible to receive any administrative assistance. With nowhere to go, what are they supposed to do?

“I feel like I’m being told to die by the roadside,” whispered a 39-year-old Nepalese man who took shelter at his benefactor’s house in Omura, Nagasaki Prefecture.

It has been more than six months since he was released in April from the Omura Immigration Center, where he spent six years in detention. He was initially hoping to get shelter from a support facility in the Kansai region, but he gave up on the plan for fear of being infected with the coronavirus after one of the residents there got a fever. The last resort he had was to turn for help from a benefactor who visited him during his detention in Omura.

He has no income or relatives in Japan, so a remittance from his family abroad is his only life line.

“I sometimes spend a day with only one bowl of instant noodles,” he says.

The Immigration Services Agency says it began implementing the provisional release program in April to avoid the “Three C’s” — confined spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places and close conversations with other people. A total 563 foreign detainees were let go on provisional release in April, nearly a third of the 1,777 detainees released in the entire year of 2019.

The immigration agency has not publicly released the provisional release data after April. But it drafted a manual for the program in May, so the figure is presumably growing.

The Omura Immigration Center, which housed more than 100 detainees at one point, had seen the number of detainees fall drastically to 37 at the end of October.

There is a reason why the Nepalese man cannot return to his home country. When he was a student, he was involved in a campaign criticizing the current administration while his country was mired in civil war.

“I don’t know what would happen if I returned,” he says. “I’m scared.”

He applied for refugee status after his student visa expired, but his application was rejected before he was detained. The provisional release is extended at certain intervals, but the man is living restlessly amid worries that he “could be detained again sometime in the future.”

The provisional release is a program that the government operates according to its own standards. Even if the detainees are released, they are unable to work or join the national health insurance program because they don’t have residential permits.

The man is in touch with former detainees who spent time with him at the same immigration center. Some of them have asked him for help, saying “I’m hard up for money” or “I have no place to live,” but he says he’s got his hands full for now, just trying to survive.

What does the government think of the predicament that the former detainees face after provisional release?

“We make judgments on provisional release, taking into account such factors as the capacity to support life outside the facility, including whether they have family or benefactors,” the Immigration Services Agency says. “There should not be many cases where they would struggle to make a living.”

But some experts voiced concerns about the operation of the provisional release system.

“While I admire the efforts to prevent infections, there are problems with running the provisional release program at the convenience of the operator,” says lawyer Yuki Maruyama, who also serves as the immigration issues project team chairwoman on the Japan Federation of Bar Associations’ Human Rights Protection Committee.

“To avoid threatening their right to live, I think it’s necessary to approve their employment to some extent after the provisional release.”

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published Nov. 28.

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