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A Missed Opportunity in Japan

This week, Japan’s House of Representatives has been debating the bill, which would amend the country’s immigration and asylum legislation if passed.

On 7 March, Japan’s cabinet passed a bill amending the country’s immigration and asylum legislation. The bill, which has been slated by rights groups, reinforces the country’s ability to indefinitely detain migrants and asylum seekers. It is now due to be voted on by the country’s parliament.

With regards to detention, the amendment bill to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (ICRRA) introduces provisions aimed at improving detainee’s access to educational and recreational activities but reinforces Japan’s controversial practice of automatically detaining all irregular arrivals for indefinite periods. Amnesty International commented, “The bill maintains a system of default detention, which is arbitrary and a violation of international law.” 

Challenging the bill’s failure to reform Japan’s detention practices, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network wrote: “The policy and practice of detention must be set down in law by defining the legitimate purpose of detention and by establishing an explicit limit on the period of detention with judicial review. Indefinite detention is arbitrary and in violation of international law.” 

Under existing legislation, Japan cannot forcibly deport foreigners while their asylum application is pending. However the new bill effectively limits asylum seekers to making a maximum of two asylum applications in the country. If they lodge a third application, their deportation order will no longer be suspended–exposing them to harm due to the risk of their being refouled to a country in which they face persecution. 

Rights groups are urging the Japanese government to withdraw the bill and to instead introduce reforms that end arbitrary and indefinite detention. This week, it has been debated in the country’s House of Representatives, and reports suggest that the country’s main opposition plans to vote against it. 

The bill is a reincarnation of one proposed in 2021 which was withdrawn due to public outcry following the shocking death of a 33 year old Sri Lankan woman in detention. Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali died in the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau Detention House following months of health complaints, sparking a wave of criticism and international complaints. 

Japan’s immigration policies have long been described by observers as unduly harsh and strict. The country accepts very few asylum applications: in 2022, of the 3,722 people who applied for asylum in the country, only 202 were accepted. This was a record high since 1982. As the Japan Association for Refugees writes, “In Japan, all applications are handled by the Japan Immigration Bureau, and it can be said that they have a stronger stance on ‘controlling’ rather than protecting refugees.” 

Arbitrary detention Asia-Pacific Detention Reform Indefinite Detention Japan