About 100 detainees have gone on a hunger strike to protest long detention at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ushiku City, Ibaraki Prefecture, where they are awaiting deportation for overstay and other reasons, Tokyo Shimbun learned from an organization that supports detainees. Two detainees who had been temporarily released from the center earlier for health reasons were detained again two weeks later. This provoked more detainees to fiercely protest their long detention and the hunger strike is now of unprecedented scale.
According to “Association Concerned with Issues at Ushiku Migrant Detention Center,” an Iranian man started a hunger strike in May. Other detainees joined him. Soon afterwards detainees one after another began complaining about health problems. As a result, four Iranian men were temporarily released from the center on July 9. On July 22, when two of the four Iranians reported to an immigration office in Tokyo to extend the temporary release, they were detained again.
After the re-detention, one of the Iranian men, 51, said during an interview: “I am still dizzy, but Immigration detained me again. I cannot believe that. I was tricked. Other detainees are angry.” Another detainee said, “Now more detainees will go on a hunger strike. The number is increasing.”
Representative Kimiko Tanaka of the association held a press conference on July 24, saying: “This is the first time for so many detainees to go on a hunger strike. Immigration apparently detained the two Iranians again as a warning against the growing number of detainees who are joining the hunger strike.” The same day the association filed a request with the Immigration Service Agency and the center, calling for releasing long-time detainees.
The center detains a total of about 320 foreigners. “The center temporarily releases detainees for medical reasons, but once the released recover from their health and there is no longer a reason for temporary release, the center re-detains them,” said an official in charge of the center’s public relations in response to press inquiries. “Detainees should not take advantage of the hunger strike for temporary release because if they believe that going on a hunger strike will lead to temporary release, the detention system stops functioning, so we need to have them understand a hunger strike is a waste of time.”
While the government is adopting measures to increase the number of foreigners coming to Japan, it is tightening measures to control illegal immigrants. This results in a growing number of long-time detainees at immigration facilities. Detainees often go on a hunger strike and cause trouble. In June, a Nigerian man went on a hunger strike and subsequently died from what apparent anorexic symptoms.
In 2007, the UN Committee against Torture criticized indefinite detention at immigration facilities as “a violation of international norms from the standpoint of the international protection of human rights” and recommended to setting an upper limit for detention.