Author: Reina Hayashi
Editor: Mayuko Yoshida, MinhAnh Nguyen
On February 19, the Japanese government submitted a bill to the Diet to amend the Immigration Control Act. The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act was enacted in 1951. There are two main components to this law:
- To determine and control whether non-Japanese nationals can stay in Japan after arrival;
- To determine whether to accept people who cannot live in their own country (refugees) because of war or discrimination.
So, what exactly is being talked about in this proposed revision? Well, there are three main points:
(1) To expand the scope of refugees. In other words, it is to protect people who do not fall under the category of refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention but are nonetheless people who have fled from conflict zones and are in need of humanitarian support.
(2) To establish a new system of supervisory measures. If someone is considered a low flight risk, the system allows them to live under the supervision of a “supervisor,” such as a relative, a support group, or a lawyer.
(3) To take actions in limiting the number of refugee applications. Until now, a person can apply for refugee status as many times as he or she wants without the risk of repatriation while their cases are pending. As a result, there were cases where people applied for refugee status multiple times in order to avoid being sent back to their country of origin. However, under the proposed amendment, a person will only be allowed to apply for refugee status or asylum twice. On the other hand, there is a concern that allowing repatriation while people are applying for refugee status violates the 1951 Convention and will not save refugees who should be protected under the Treaty.
Japan’s system for accepting foreigners as well as this amendment bill regarding immigration law are important to pay attention to, considering the number of problems and mismanagement that this particular institution has had.
The Problem of Long-Term Detainment
A large number of asylum seekers in Japan refuse to be sent back to their country of origin for fear of persecution. Due to this, many people are detained in facilities for long periods of time. At the end of 2019, there were 1,054 people being held in detention facilities by the Immigration Bureau of Japan.
Though their detainment was originally intended to be temporary until repatriation, more than 40% of the detainees have been held for more than six months, and 63 people have been detained for more than three years. In addition, an increasing number of detainees are going on hunger strikes, aiming for provisional release to recuperate. In some cases, people have died of starvation.
Things have only gotten more serious with Covid-19.
In February 2021, Covid-19 spread throughout a Tokyo Immigration detention facility, infecting more than 40% of all inmates. Some detainees who shared the same room with people who tested positive for Covid-19 requested to have the room disinfected or to be moved. However, these requests were not responded to with immediate action.
In 2019, Japan granted refugee status to only 0.4% of all asylum-seeking applicants.
The number of applicants for refugee status was 10,375. Ultimately, refugee status was granted to 44 people, while another 37 people were not officially given refugee status, but had been given permission to stay in Japan on humanitarian arrangements.
With Japan’s declining birthrate and the ageing population, there is a serious shortage of workers in certain occupations. Japan should take action by expanding the acceptance of foreign workers as it will soon become essential to support the country’s future. Hence, to compensate for a loss of roughly 4 million people in the labour force, the Diet has announced an initiative to expand the acceptance of foreign workers from 2017 to 2030.
Will foreigners choose to come to Japan despite its issues of long-term detainment?
Japan must acknowledge that the acceptance of foreigners is critical for its future. It is easy for many Japanese people to think that this issue does not concern them, but it’s something that affects all of Japan. What is happening now should be taken into earnest consideration.
The proposed amendment is expected to be enacted in June. What do you think of the amendment?
Image: Photo by Metin Ozer