World Refugee Day – An Update from Ushiku no Kai

Author: Ushiku no Kai
Translator:  Mayuko Yoshida
Editor: MinhAnh Nguyen

June 20th is the World Refugee Day, approved by the United Nations.

A “refugee” is defined as a person who is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of his or her country of nationality because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act Amendment Forced to Withdrawal!

On Tuesday, May 18, the government and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced their decision not to pass the “amendment bill” to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that was being discussed in the current Diet session. The Ministry of Justice’s proposed amendment, which claims to solve the problem of long-term detention, is “a complete lie,” says a statement of protest issued by Bar Associations nationwide. In addition, NGOs, NPOs, labour unions, and other organizations concerned with foreign nationals have raised their voices in protest, and many people have called on the Diet members. On Wednesdays and Fridays, when the Parliamentary Committee meets every week, the Federation of Migrants’ Associations staged sit-in rallies in front of the Diet Building, many students, including high school students, and women were present, with the number of people increasing every day.

While the bill to “revise” the Immigration Control Act was on the agenda, a Sri Lankan woman, Ms Wishma, died at the Nagoya Immigration Bureau on March 6 after losing 20 kilograms due to deteriorating health. She died at the age of 33, unable to receive intravenous fluids or even be hospitalized. Her sisters, who came from Sri Lanka to claim her body, asked: “Why did my sister have to die in the immigration office?” The Nagoya Immigration Services Agency officials were insincere to the sisters who came from Sri Lanka to find out the cause of her death and even refused to show video footage of Ms Wishma while she was in detention to Diet Members who came to investigate this tragedy.

The bureaucracy of the Nagoya Immigration Center is the very same bureaucracy that once proclaimed that “there is no humanity here” and that “foreigners can be eaten, boiled, or roasted…”. The Ministry of Justice’s proposed amendment to the Immigration Control Act is unacceptable! In order to strengthen security measures for foreign nationals in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, immigration detention facilities across the country were notified in 2015 that they “would have to strictly enforce  provisional release.”

Since then, the number of long-term detainees increased dramatically, and protests had been held at detention facilities across Japan. At Ushiku Immigration Detention Center, a hunger strike involving 100 people took place from May 2019. Then, at the Omura Detention Center, the worst case occurred on June 24, when a Nigerian man died of starvation. In response, the Ministry of Justice established the “Expert Committee on Repatriation and Detention” in October, and based on the conclusions and recommendations of this committee, they proposed “amendments” of the Immigration Law to the Diet.

The Ministry of Justice is aware of the long-term detainees created by its own policies and has imposed a number of restrictions, including criminalizing the refusal of repatriation, fugitive upon provisional release, and a two-time limit on refugee applications. How many more people will be able to receive asylum under the stricter refugee provisions of the Convention when the new system of “protection as a quasi-refugee” is established? The new supervisory system will assign a “supervisor” appointed by the Ministry of Justice to the individual on provisional release and have the supervisor report every move and action to the Immigration Bureau every month. In addition, if the individual you’re responsible for on provisional release escapes, the supervisor will also be held responsible. In this way, it will be impossible to support people on provisional release.

Thanks to many people’s various activities, the deceptive amendment bill in the Diet was scrapped.

The number of detainees in immigration detention facilities across the country has decreased dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ushiku, there used to be about 300 detainees at any time, but now there are less than 60. What will happen to immigration detention? We cannot allow the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to be put on the agenda again. In order not to let “human rights violations behind closed doors” occur and not to overlook immigration detention issues, which are at the forefront of this country’s foreign policy, we will continue to make steady efforts to visit people in the detention centres.

At the same time, people who have been allowed to leave on provisional release from immigration facilities all over the country are in danger of survival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They should be given visas to live in this country. Let’s raise our voices together to win the “right to live happily” for all regular and irregular foreign residents, including technical interns, in this country!

As of 2020, there are more than 80 million refugees and displaced people in the world. In the Middle East and Africa, there have been many civil wars and international conflicts, and a large number of people have been forced to leave their homeland to escape the wars in these countries. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting them harder than ever.

The refugee crisis is not an issue in a distant country.

Many refugee claimants have been coming to Japan. As soon as they arrive at Narita or Haneda airport and apply for refugee status, some of them end up in detention facilities in Ushiku or Shinagawa.

In 2019, 44 out of 10,375 people were recognized as refugees by Japan. That’s a mere 0.4% acceptance rate. This is an unbelievably low number among the G7 countries. Last year, when the border restrictions were imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of applicants decreased by 62% from the previous year to 3,936. Of the 3936 applicants, 46 (1.1%) were recognised as refugees.

Under the neo-liberal economy, the Japanese capital is expanding all over the world, and in fact, we are deeply involved in the internal affairs of many countries that are considered autocratic. In Myanmar, a coup d’etat by the military resulted in the deaths of many people, including children. Japan is the largest Official Development Assistance (ODA) donor and many Japanese companies have close ties with the military. Myanmar people living in Japan are also protesting every day. Solidarity in action!

Let’s work together with refugees living in Japan, as well as those who are in the process of applying for refugee status, those who are on provisional release, and those who are being held in detention facilities such as Ushiku, to make “World Refugee Day” not just a day to celebrate, but a day to live together and create a society where no one is left behind! Why don’t you join us in this effort?

Image: Photo by Antoine Merour

World Refugee Day – An Update from Ushiku no Kai
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