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Editorial: Immigration bill shows Japan gov't has learned nothing about human rights

Has the Japanese government forgotten that it has been lambasted both domestically and internationally for its profusion of human rights problems?

    Draft amendments to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act have been approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and submitted to the Diet -- amendments almost identical to a set scrapped amid intense criticism two years ago.

    Japan is faced with a persistent problem when it comes to immigration: Illegal stayers held for long periods in detention centers after they have received -- and not abided by -- deportation orders. Justice Minister Ken Saito has insisted that legal changes are needed to better the situation.

    However, the foreigners in Japan's immigration detention centers may be in danger if they go back to their countries, and some have family in Japan.

    The proposed amendments would effectively limit refugee status applications to two per person. Deportation is suspended during the refugee evaluation process, and the Immigration Services Agency of Japan is aware that the system is being abused by some. However, international rules dictate that a refugee claimant cannot be forcibly repatriated.

    Japan is, by global standards, extremely reluctant to grant refugee status. In 2021, a grand total of 74 people were recognized as refugees -- a rate of 0.7%.

    Last year, a record number of about 200 people were recognized, but that is still extremely low. And most claimants from Myanmar who cannot go home because of the military junta in control there have also not been given refugee status.

    If Japan introduces application restrictions under these circumstances, people who should be protected may be forced to return to their home countries. The first step is to change the screening process in accordance with international standards.

    The draft amendments include "supervision measures" as an alternative to incarceration. Designated supporters would become "custodians" of illegal stayers on release from detention centers, allowing detainees to live in society under their watchful care. However, it would be up to the immigration agency whether to put someone under "supervision" or lock them away in detention.

    United Nations human rights officials have expressed concern over Japan's immigration detention procedures. Despite this, the proposed legal reforms contain neither a recourse to the courts nor a limit on how long a person can be held.

    The government's previous try at immigration law reform in 2021 failed in great part because of the death of Sri Lankan national Wishma Sandamali in a Nagoya immigration detention center. Her passing at age 33 rocked Japanese society and badly undermined trust in the immigration system.

    However, an Immigration Services Agency internal report concluded only that there had been systematic problems at the Nagoya facility itself, and made no attempt to review detention practices overall.

    The latest amendment bill shows not a hint of reflection on Japan's disregard for immigrants' human rights, and should be reconsidered.

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