Long-term detentions at Japan’s immigration facilities remain unsolved

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Rooms for detainees are seen at an immigration control facility in Ibaraki Prefecture in May 2018.

The resolution of such issues as the long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration control facilities is likely to be delayed, as it has become certain that a bill to amend the immigration control law will not be passed during the current Diet session.

The government had sought to address the problem of foreign nationals being held for a long time before being deported as a result of their illegal entry or staying in the nation too long.

On Tuesday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party told the opposition camp it would give up on passing the bill during the ongoing session. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference on the same day that the government had submitted the bill “as a necessary measure to address urgent issues for immigration control administration, such as long-term detention.”

The number of overstayers reached 82,868 as of January this year, an increase of about 22,000 from the same month in 2015. As of the end of 2019, there were 649 foreign nationals who refused to be deported, accounting for about 70% of the 942 detainees in immigration control facilities.

Some of these detainees became ill while in custody.

To avoid prolonged detentions, the government included in the bill a system that would assign supervisors to such foreign nationals and allow them to stay outside immigration control facilities until deportation. Under the envisioned system, the Immigration Services Agency would appoint supervisors from among a person’s relatives and others.

There have been many cases in which a person made repeated applications for refugee status as a ploy to avoid deportation, so the bill also includes a rule that foreign nationals who apply for refugee status more than three times will be deported, in principle.

However, the postponement of the bill means there is no indication when these changes could be realized.

“Ultimately we are left with the same immigration administration, which no one wanted,” Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of LDP’s coalition partner Komeito, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“I wonder if the public fully understand the contents of the bill,” said Mari Kawamura, a professor of international law at Kyorin University. “[The government] should continue its efforts to protect foreign nationals who need protection, through measures including the expansion of refugee protection.”