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Japan discusses deportation with Turkey, Iran amid concerns policies fuel detentions

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seen in this file photo, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Feb. 2, 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government has sought cooperation from its counterparts in Turkey and Iran to amend policies allowing them to refuse to accept some of their nationals deported from Japan, excluding them from new visa programs and placing their citizens under risk of extended detentions here.

The talks have come in tandem with the government's attempts to increase the number of foreign workers in the country under the new specified skills visa residency status introduced in April.

While the Turkish government has shifted its stance on dealing with deportees, enabling it to join Tokyo's new visa program, the Japanese government is continuing to convey its demands to the Iranian administration.

Turkish and Iranian administration policies excluded them from the system following a decision in January. The choice was made due to apprehensions that their inclusion would lead to the Japanese government being forced into handing out long-term detentions to more of those countries' citizens who illegally overstay. Many would effectively have nowhere to go even if their deportation has been ordered.

Foreign nationals directed to return to their home countries are sent to immigration centers and other facilities for temporary detention. But people from Iran or Turkey, whose governments can refuse to accept a returnee, end up being held for extended periods. Some believe the treatment of foreigners at the centers is excessively harsh.

Concerned by its exclusion, Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran came to Japan in March. Following talks, Turkey promised to revise its policy of refusing to issue travel documents to its citizens who don't hold a passport, thereby effectively refusing to accept their deportation. Following the talks, Japan included Turkey on the list of countries whose citizens are eligible for the specified skills visa. Since March, multiple Turkish nationals held in detention centers for overstaying their visas have been repatriated.

In the case of Iran however, its constitution mandates freedom of movement for its citizens, thereby allowing it to refuse to accept anyone who does not wish to return. But with the country having shown interest in the new visa classification, it appears there may be room for Japan to encourage a change.

While detention centers have been criticized for their strict environments, immigration bureaus can grant provisional releases from the centers, but under conditions that limit movement and employment activities. The practice is not universally supported either, with many voicing concerns about the possibility of those on-release committing crimes and other deeds.

Data current up to the end of 2018 shows that in total 2,501 foreign nationals had received provisional release. Turkish people made up the largest number, with 365 granted release, while Iran came in fourth place with 230. Of the 108 people who committed legal violations while out of detention under the scheme in 2018, 23 were Iranian, the most of any country, and nine were Turkish, the third highest.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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