According to NGO sources, there has been a decrease in arrests and detention orders in Japan during the pandemic. According to the Forum for Refugees Japan (FRJ), the number of detainees had decreased to around 520 by July, compared to 1,054 in April 2020. Additionally, the International Detention Coalition (IDC) reported that 563 asylum seekers were granted provisional release by April 2020. While some sources have noted that these releases may be a “promising” COVID-related response, the FRJ told the GDP that these releases–which FRJ said included both asylum seekers and irregular migrants–amounted to little more than releasing people into the community while providing no right to work, no access to national health insurance, and no support mechanisms.
Based on an MoU between Japan’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Japan’s Federal Bar Association, and FRJ, FRJ provides shelter and support for asylum seekers detained at airports. Nonetheless, the MoJ deems the collaboration with FRJ not to amount to an “alternative to detention,” but rather a “housing provision program.” Once a person is granted “Landing Permission for Temporary Refuge”, or “Permission for Provisional Release,” or “Permission for Provisional Stay,” FRJ takes responsibility for providing assistance to them. However, according to FRJ, they only receive between 1-5 cases per year. The conditions for those referred to the programme under “Permission for Provisional Release” are the same as other types of releases, but FRJ can secure emergency shelter and arrange casework for the person including counselling and legal advice sessions.
Earlier this year, Japan’s Expert Committee on Detention and Deportation released a set of recommendations regarding the long-term detention of undocumented non-citizens. However, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations argued that several recommendations suffered “unignorable problems that could potentially be in breach of the rights recognised by the Constitution of Japan and international human rights covenants.” The bar association emphasized that in 2018 Japan granted just 0.5 percent of applications for refugee status or complementary protection; by comparison, that same year numerous other countries–including Germany, France, Italy, and Canada–granted more than 30 percent. The bar association also noted that from 2010 to 2018, 20 percent of those granted refugee status in Japan and 40 percent of those given special residency for humanitarian reasons had previously been given written deportation orders.
On 24 September, the Japan Times reported that according to immigration officials, the country was finalising new supervisory measures that will enable the release of non-citizens applying for refugee status but who face more than six months in detention. The measure comes following criticism of Japan’s long-term detention of non-citizens who refuse to accept deportation. The new measures also include the provision of financial support for released detainees to help them cover basic living costs, given that they are prohibited from seeking employment. The immigration authority is also reportedly planning to establish a new status for non-citizens whose refugee application is rejected but who are undeportable.
- International Detention Coalition, “Room for Hope: IDC Briefing Note: An Overview of Promising Alternatives to Detention in the Era of COVID-19,” 30 October 2020, https://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Covid-19-Briefing-Note-2020-ENGLISH.pdf
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Japan, March 2013, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/asia-pacific/japan#country-report
- The Mainichi, “Lawyer Sounds Alarm Over Japanese Gov’t Proposals on Foreigners Facing Long-Term Detention,” 22 September 2020, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200922/p2a/00m/0na/013000c
- The Japan Times, “Japan Plans to Release Asylum Seekers Facing Long-Term Detention,” 24 September 2020, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/09/24/national/japan-refugee-detainees/
- A Detainee Waiting Inside a Tokyo Detention Centre Run by the Regional Immigration Bureau, (Reuters, “Hunger Strikes Spread in Japan’s Migrant Detention Centres,” Nikkei Asia, 13 January 2020, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Japan-immigration/Hunger-strikes-spread-in-Japan-s-migrant-detention-centers)
- Forum for Refugees Japan (Satomi Hiyama), Email Exchange with Mario Guido & Michael Flynn (Global Detention Project), 2 November 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/