Harms of Prolonged Detention Should Not Go Unaddressed

Long-term detention of foreign nationals in immigration control facilities can lead to human rights violations. The government should appropriately implement the newly revised immigration law and enhance public confidence in immigration administration.

The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law has been enacted. The revised law is intended to improve the current situation in which foreign nationals who have been ordered to leave Japan end up being detained for a long period of time.

In principle, foreigners who overstay or who have committed crimes are to be repatriated. However, there are those who refuse to return to their home countries because they have family in Japan. As of the end of last year, there were more than 4,200 such “repatriation evaders.”

Many repatriation evaders have repeatedly applied for refugee status. This is because there was a provision in the law stating that they would not be deported as long as they were in the process of applying for refugee status. This has been one of the reasons why some of them have been detained in immigration control facilities for long periods.

The revised law allows a person to apply for refugee status up to twice in principle, and makes it possible to deport the person even while the application process is still underway after a third or later application. It is reasonable to put certain restrictions in place to prevent those seeking to avoid repatriation from abusing the refugee recognition system.

The revised law also introduces a system that allows foreign nationals to live outside the facilities on condition that they remain under the supervision of a person approved by the Immigration Services Agency.

It is important to improve the living environment of foreign nationals, taking their human rights into consideration.

Those who refuse deportation include people who were born and raised in Japan. It is hoped that the government will discuss some measures so that they do not have to live apart from their families, if there is no risk of their running away or reoffending.

Following the death of a Sri Lankan woman in detention at a facility in Nagoya two years ago, Japan’s immigration administration came under scrutiny at home and abroad.

It is essential for the Immigration Services Agency to pay close attention to the health of those detained at its facilities. The medical system should also be enhanced.

In recent years, the government has flexibly allowed “provisional release” even for repatriation evaders, for reasons such as illness. However, the number of cases of people running away while on provisional release has continued to increase, reaching about 1,400 at the end of last year.

Those who ran away include foreigners who had been sentenced to prison for theft or injury offenses. Although the purpose is to solve the issue of long-term detention, it would be problematic to grant provisional release unnecessarily. The agency should take measures to prevent people from running away.

In the latest revision to the law, the government has established a system to recognize “people in need of complementary protection,” with displaced people from Ukraine in mind. The government will provide them with assistance comparable to that provided to refugees, such as allowing them to enroll in the national health insurance program.

It has long been said that Japan accepts few refugees. It is desirable to ensure that those who should be rescued are indeed protected.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 10, 2023)