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Editorial: Possible changes to immigration law fall short of global standards

  • March 1, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 4:05 p.m.
  • English Press

The government recently submitted a bill to the Diet for amending the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.


Major issues have been raised about the latest surge in the number of foreign nationals, designated for deportation because they have illegally overstayed their visas and for other reasons. These foreign nationals remain detained for longer periods at immigration facilities until they get repatriated.


The legislative changes were proposed to help solve that problem. Part of these appear reasonable and advisable, but they also contain a number of provisions that lack consideration for the protection of human rights and for due process.


Opposition parties also submitted, around the same time, an amendment bill of their own.


In-depth discussions should be held in the Diet so as to transform Japan’s immigration control system into one that is acceptable in light of international standards.


Of the 1,054 foreign nationals who were detained at immigration centers at the end of 2019, more than 40 percent had been held there for six months or more, with 197 of them incarcerated for at least two years.


Some have family members living in Japan. Others say their countries of origin will not accept them. Still others have sought refugee status in Japan, so they cannot be deported as long as their applications are being processed.


While the detainees thus have an entire variety of background circumstances, many of them have gone so far as to stage hunger strikes to protest their prolonged incarcerations. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to their plight.


The situation has changed somewhat since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including an increase in the number of people granted “provisional release” to help prevent a spread of coronavirus infections. That, however, has provided no fundamental solution to the problem.


Worthy of note in the government bill is a provision to create a new supervisory program, which would allow would-be deportees to live outside detention facilities under the supervision of their family members or others until their applications for refugee recognition or for special permission to stay in Japan are decided.


Introduction of that program would relax the current principle, whereby everyone suspected of circumstances that warrant deportation should be detained at least temporarily. Just as in the case of provisional release, however, the standards for allowing entry into a supervisory program remain ambiguous and are likely to be left to the broad discretion of the authorities.


A U.N. working group said last autumn, in response to a plea made by two male non-Japanese citizens, that the long detentions by Japan’s immigration authorities violate the International Covenants on Human Rights. It also called on Japan to ensure that decisions on matters of detention will be put to judicial review and that an upper limit will be set on detention periods.


Neither of the recommended measures, however, is included in the government bill.


Arrest of a suspect and detention of a suspect or an accused individual require a warrant issued by a court. Incarceration of a foreign national into an immigration center is no different from those procedures in that it involves restriction of freedom.


We should change our thinking and realize that a requisite intervention of a judicial decision to prevent arbitrary operation of the system would not only guarantee the rights of foreign nationals but also help build public trust in Japan’s immigration control services.


The government bill includes a revision of the current provision saying that an applicant for refugee status should not be deported while the process is ongoing. Those who are applying for refugee status for a third and subsequent time will, in principle, be excluded from coverage of that rule under the proposed legal changes.


In fact, however, many people have been granted refugee status, or permission to stay in Japan, in the course of their repeated applications. We cannot but feel concerned that easy deportation of foreign nationals could bring about irrecoverable developments to their lives.


The government has explained that other countries, including Germany and France, have also set limits on the number of times that refugee status can be sought.


Those nations, however, are granting refugee status more extensively to applicants during the initial review process, so they cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Japan, which has set considerably higher hurdles and has thus invited mistrust.


The planned legal revisions are not likely to win the understanding of the international community.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 28

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