The Tokyo High Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional for Japanese immigration authorities to deport refugee claimants without giving them the chance to go to court over their applications.
The authorities deported two Sri Lankans seven years ago the day after they were notified Japan would not recognize them as refugees. The latest ruling concluded that the decision infringed upon their right to access a court of law, as guaranteed under Article 32 of Japan's Constitution.
It is indispensable for the protection of people's rights and freedoms that they be able to seek a judicial decision over forcible measures taken by administrative authorities. And there has indeed been an instance of immigration authorities' decision being revoked by a court, with the plaintiff granted refugee status.
The steps the immigration authorities took prevented the two Sri Lankan men from filing suit and therefore disregarded their human rights. It is only natural that the latest ruling harshly condemned the measures.
The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act provides for suspension of deportation while immigration authorities screen the refugee status qualifications of foreign nationals who have been ordered deported. Foreigners on trial are also, as a rule, not forcibly sent back to their home countries while court proceedings are ongoing.
The forced repatriation of the two Sri Lankans threaded its way through these rules and operations. The immigration bureau had decided not to grant them refugee status more than 40 days before it notified them, but was going ahead with preparations to deport them during that time.
The high court acknowledged that the immigration bureau "deliberately delayed the notification in order to ensure their deportation." The verdict overturned a lower court decision that the bureau's actions were legal.
Behind the authorities' rush to forcibly repatriate foreign nationals is the prolonged stays in immigration detention facilities endured by some people after being ordered deported. Immigration officials claim that some people repeatedly file for refugee status to avoid deportation.
There are, however, many foreign individuals who cannot return to their home countries because they are in physical danger there, or because they have a family in Japan. Japan's criteria for refugee status recognition is far stricter than those in other countries.
The latest ruling is not the first of its kind in Japan. In January, the Nagoya High Court ordered the central government pay compensation in a similar case, though it stopped short of declaring the state's actions unconstitutional.
Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa revealed on Sept. 24 that her ministry changed how it implemented immigration rules in June, to make sure that, in principle, a refugee applicant knows their claim has been rejected at least two months before they are deported.
Yet the fundamental issue comes down to the immigration authorities' rigid stance of excluding people without residency status here from Japanese society. This attitude is evident in their reluctance to sincerely deal with the bereaved family's demands in connection with the death of a Sri Lankan woman at a regional immigration facility.
The government must take the latest ruling to heart and reflect on its actions seriously, and revamp the nation's immigration system into one that respects human rights.