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Migration, asylum become hot issues in Japan

26 June 20230 comments

A public debate has broken out in Japan over new laws that mean asylum seekers who have had their applications rejected three times can be deported from the country.

The law was confirmed after a vote by the parliament’s lower house.

Previously, asylum seekers in Japan could stay so long as the decision process was still ongoing, no matter how many times their cases had been rejected.

Compared to other wealthy, Japan does not accept large numbers of permanent migrants and refugees.

In 2022, around 12,500 people applied for asylum in Japan, which is known for its inflexible bureaucracy, but only 202, or less than 2 per cent, had their cases accepted.

Meanwhile, 1,760 people were allowed to remain in the country on account of humanitarian considerations.

Also, people who seek asylum but whose cases have yet to be processed must wait in immigration detention, where living conditions have been slammed by human rights groups as crowded and inadequate.

Japan’s total population in 2022 was 125 million and the nation is in the grip of a fertility crisis with an aging population.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which dominates Japanese politics, together with its minor coalition partners promoted the bill as a means of providing better access to medical care and accommodations to those whose asylum applications are pending.

Justice Minister Ken Saito said that the amended law will be capable of “strictly dealing with people who have violated rules” yet also “protect those who must be protected.”

He said that “there are many people who misuse the application system to avoid deportation,” even if they are not fleeing danger or persecution.”

A scuffle broke out in the national parliament recently, when the upper house voted on the law.

Representative Taro Yamamoto, former actor and leader of the minor anti-establishment Reiwa Party, physically and vocally interrupted the deliberations.

Yamamoto, known for his role in the 2000 film Battle Royale, had to be restrained by other lawmakers.

He justified his actions as necessary to protect refugees, and has argued that the amendment doesn’t actually contain provisions to improve conditions in immigration detention.

Other dissenters to the amendment say that the deportations are unfair and inhumane.

“It is intolerable to deport people, even if they have criminal records, to countries that may violate their human rights” and where “their life and freedom would be in danger”, the Tokyo Bar Association said prior to the bill’s passage.

The debate has focused attention on the flaws within Japan’s immigration detention system, highlighted by the case of Wishma Sandamali.

She was a Sri Lankan woman who died in custody at an immigration detention facility in Nagoya after her requests for provisional release and adequate medical care were denied. 

Her death, the 17th in detention, raised concerns about insufficient medical care and triggered an of detention policies. Advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, have demanded the revision of immigration laws and improvement to detention conditions.