TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Members of 12 Vietnamese families living in Japan were separated from other family members when the Japanese government deported them in February, according to Justice Ministry documents and information obtained by Kyodo News.
Among the affected Vietnamese is Hoang Van Hiep, a 52-year-old man recognized by Tokyo as refugee, who is now living alone with his Japanese-born 5-year-old son after his wife, 46-year-old Nguyen Thi Loan Phuong, was deported along with 46 other Vietnamese aboard a chartered plane.
According to the ministry, the deportation of the Vietnamese, aged between 8 and 49, took place on Feb. 8 on a flight from Haneda airport to Hanoi. They had stayed illegally in Japan for durations of up to 21 years and five months.
In a telephone interview with Kyodo News, Phuong said immigration officials forcibly pulled her son from her lap in a room at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau and whisked him away, and detained her, about a week before her deportation.
"My son was crying. I still cannot forget his crying voice," she said.
Hiep, who works from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. at a noodle-making factory in Gunma Prefecture, eastern Japan, told Kyodo he has been struggling to raise his son since Phuong, who had been living as a housewife, was forcibly repatriated.
His wife, who had been previously deported from Japan, came back to the country in 2007 using her sister's passport, and married him.
Hiep said returning to Vietnam to be reunited with his wife is impossible as he is a refugee and their son can speak only Japanese.
"My wife certainly violated the immigration law, but she regrets it," he said. "All I want is just to live with my wife and son."
Japanese people assisting foreign workers condemn the family separations, saying Tokyo is no different from the U.S. government, whose immigration policy that led to thousands of children being separated from parents has drawn strong criticism inside and outside the country.
"On humanitarian grounds, the government should issue a special residence permit to illegal residents who have long been living with family in Japan," said Motoko Yamagishi, secretary general of the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan.
The number of illegal residents has grown since the 1980s as they take on factory and construction jobs, with many deciding to settle in Japan and start a family. Supporters of foreign workers say they are shoring up the industries with a labor shortages.
Responding to a request for comment about family separations caused by its deportation of foreigners, the Justice Ministry said in a statement that "under international customary law, a state is allowed to freely decide whether to accept foreigners into its country or not, and what kind of conditions to be attached if accepting them."
Japan uses chartered airplanes and handcuffs to deport groups of foreigners after they refuse to abide by repatriation orders.
After resorting to the method for the first time in 2013 when it sent 75 Filipinos back home, Tokyo has conducted this type of deportation once or twice every fiscal year, although information on criteria for choosing the subjects of group deportations has not been released. Past deportations have also involved family separations.