There have been many cases of COVID-19 infections in the country’s prisons, albeit none reported in immigration detention facilities (as of 27 April 2020). According to a report in The Japan Times, all new detainees are placed under quarantine to prevent new transmissions.
At least 20 people from the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture have been granted temporary release from detention. On 15 April, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement calling on the government to grant detainees special or temporary permission to reside in Japan. On 17 April, an official from the Immigration Services Agency said: “The practice of releasing detainees for health reasons isn’t new, but we are offering more flexibility due to the coronavirus threat.”
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has previously criticised conditions at detention facilities, noting the lack of windows and the issue of overcrowding, which increases the risk of transmission. The Japan Association for Refugees has previously raised concerns regarding inadequate medical facilities within detention facilities which may, in the case of an outbreak, violate detainees’ rights to health.
A journalist from the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun visited the detention facility of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau on 1 and 2 April 2020.The journalist noted that staff members at reception were using protective visors, gloves, and masks, and visitors were checked for their temperatures; however, when asked about conditions within the facility, one detainee said: “Compared to the workers, we do not have any such protective equipment. In our living quarters, I have not seen any sanitizer. I don’t know why. I have already told staff members that I want our communal telephones to be disinfected; but I don’t know whether they are doing this.” Another detainee told the journalist: “There are only 30cm between me and the next person.”
On 27 April 2020, it was reported that 28 detainees (predominantly male, from 17 different countries) held in the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center had issued demands to the detention centre, including requesting for more people to be temporarily released in order to combat the risk of transmission.
Amnesty International Japan has launched a petition requesting the Minister of Justice to end the practice of re-detention of protesting detainees after a short-term release; ensure the principle of non-refoulement is respected in any circumstance; and incorporate an upper limit on the duration of immigration detention for only shortest period necessary to implement deportation orders. It has been signed by over 7400 people (as of 30 April 2020).
- Amnesty International Japan, “外国人の長期収容に終止符を！[End Immigration Detention Now!]”, Amnesty International Japan, 2020, https://www.amnesty.or.jp/get-involved/action/jp_202001.html
- M. Osumi, “Spread of COVID-19 in Japanese prisons spurs calls for releases,” The Japan Times, 21 April 2020, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/21/national/crime-legal/covid-19-japanese-prisons/
- Japan Federation of Bar Associations, “刑事収容施設における感染拡大の防止を求める会長声明 [“President issues press release on the spread of infection in detention centres”], Japan Federation of Bar Associations,, 23 April 2020, https://www.nichibenren.or.jp/document/statement/year/2020/200423_3.html
- Tokyo WEB, “入管の３密解消を 「部屋を分けて」１７カ国の収容者が要望書 [Requests from detainees from 17 countries to divide their rooms into separate spaces]”, Tokyo WEB, 27 April 2020, https://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/202004/CK2020042702100052.html
- 木許はるみ, “新型コロナ「隣の人と30センチ」入管収容者から不安の声 市民団体、感染防止申し入れ [Voices of anxiety from immigration detainees in the midst of the pandemic; ‘We are only 30cm apart]]”, Mainichi Shimbun, 7 April 2020, https://mainichi.jp/articles/20200407/k00/00m/040/118000c
- Police in Protective Gear Take a Suspect to the Prosecutor’s Office in Osaka, (Kyodo, “Spread of COVID-19 in Japanese Prisons Spurs Calls for Releases,” The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/21/national/crime-legal/covid-19-japanese-prisons/)