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Japan plans new system for refugee applicants to live in society to avoid long-term detentions

  • September 22, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 4:58 p.m.
  • English Press

Certain foreign nationals subject to prolonged detention by the Immigration Services Agency under current rules may be able to live in society under a new system the agency plans to introduce, sources have said.


The plan comes in response to the issue of foreign nationals being held at detention centers for long periods after refusing to be deported. The new system would be a “supervisory measure” for those who are expected to be detained for six months or more in situations involving the refugee application process or court cases over refugee recognition, according to the sources.


The agency also intends to establish a new system in which foreign nationals who are not yet refugees but who are unable to return to their home countries due to conflicts there will be recognized as “quasi-refugees” and allowed to stay in Japan for their protection, the sources said.


The agency plans to submit a bill to amend the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law to the Diet, possibly within this year, but it may be postponed until next year or later.


Last year, hunger strikes spread at detention centers for immigration control detainees across the nation with the aim of obtaining “provisional release,” which is approved for such reasons as illness. In June last year, a Nigerian man died of starvation at a center in Nagasaki Prefecture.


In June this year, an expert panel of the agency compiled a list of measures to end the long-term confinement of the detainees, including measures to enable them to live outside the centers, and the agency had been studying the details for the measures.


According to the sources, the envisioned supervisory measure would cover refugee applicants whose repatriation is suspended under the provisions of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, as well as foreign nationals who are in legal proceedings over the recognition of their status. The new system will not cover those who have criminal records or are suspected to have the intention of fleeing.


Support groups and lawyers recognized by the agency will serve as “supervisors.” They will be obliged to keep track of the living circumstances of foreign nationals living in society under the new system and report regularly to the agency. In addition to penalties for fleeing, the agency will also consider providing financial support for about three months in consideration of the fact that such foreign nationals are not allowed to hold jobs.


Refugee applications are often abused as a way to evade deportation, and applications can be made repeatedly if refugee status is not granted. Noting that there has been a case of a single detainee making such an application five times, the agency will limit the scope of supervisory measures to up to the second application in principle. The agency estimates that about 500 refugee applicants a year would be subject to the supervisory measures.


As of the end of December last year, 649 detainees were resisting repatriation. Among them, 462 had been detained for six months or longer.


In addition to supervisory measures, the agency’s efforts to end the phenomenon of long-term detention will include imposing penalties if a foreigner refuses to be deported without a justifiable reason. It also intends to introduce a system to shorten the ban on re-entry to Japan to a minimum of one year in cases of swift departure.


■ Humanitarian ‘quasi-refugee’ status


Meanwhile, there will be a new status called “quasi-refugee” for those whose home countries are in conflict. They will be allowed to live in Japan as “permanent residents” in the same manner as refugees under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, meaning they will be eligible to receive public assistance from local governments to stay in Japan stably.


Last year, 44 people were recognized as refugees in Japan, but there has been criticism from both inside and outside Japan that the criteria for recognition are too strict. There are some applicants who do not qualify as refugees but who are allowed to stay and work for humanitarian reasons, with 10 people, including Syrians and a Yemeni national, becoming eligible last year. The agency intends to recognize such foreign nationals as “quasi-refugees” to clarify their status as protected persons, in an effort to avoid such criticism.

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