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Editorial: Japan's immigration law draft revisions lack human rights considerations

Proposals for amendments to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act were approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Feb. 19. The aim is said to be to end the long-term detentions of foreign nationals on immigration violations.

    However, the draft revisions make controls on the residency of foreign nationals even stricter, by thoroughly implementing forcible repatriation of those found to be in Japan illegally, and establishing punishments for those who do not obey deportation orders.

    Most people who receive deportation orders leave Japan of their own accord. Those who defy the orders tend to be people at risk of physical harm if they do return, or have family in Japan. The draft revisions lack consideration for such people. We find the lack of sensitivity to human rights questionable.

    Especially problematic is the stipulation that limits the number of times a person can apply for refugee certification. The international convention on the status of refugees prohibits the repatriation of people who could be refugees, and under current Japanese law, people who are in the process of being assessed for refugee certification cannot be sent back to their countries of origin.

    Under the draft revisions, however, people who have undergone the refugee certification process three or more times are subject to forced deportation unless they have documents to prove they are refugees. The Immigration Services Agency of Japan explains that the system is being abused by people trying to avoid being sent back.

    But globally speaking, Japan is a difficult place to be certified as a refugee. In 2019, 10,375 people applied for refugee status, but only 44 were approved. Japan's refugee approval procedure should be reviewed first.

    There are problems with how foreign nationals are detained as well. The courts do not get involved, and there are no limitations on how long people can be held. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out that Japan's detention of foreign nationals violates the International Covenants on Human Rights, but the Japanese government has not made any moves to change the situation.

    Meanwhile, for those who are not deemed a flight risk, a new supervisory measure will be instituted in place of detention. Family members and supporters become "supervisors," and individuals will be able to live in society.

    However, after a person receives a deportation order, they are forbidden from working. Furthermore, because they cannot apply for welfare, those who had trouble making ends meet would have no choice but to return to detention centers.

    Ahead of the Japanese government's draft revisions, the opposition bloc submitted its own draft revisions to the Diet that would shift authority for refugee status decisions from the justice minister to an independent body. They would also require authorization from a judge to hold individuals in detention centers.

    Incorporating aspects of the opposition bloc's draft revisions in Diet deliberations, there is a need to make the legal system one that takes human rights into account.

    One reason there are people in this country without legal residency status is Japan's policy regarding foreign nationals. Countless people have come to Japan on the Technical Intern Training Program, but have gone missing, unable to tolerate the low wages and appalling labor conditions.

    There are more than a few industries in Japan that cannot continue to exist without the labor of foreign nationals. If we are to uphold the ideal of coexistence, then we must first change the way we accept foreign nationals into the country.

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