Despite protests from rights organizations and opposition parties, Japan passed an immigration law on Friday empowering the government to deport unsuccessful asylum claimants.
No matter how many times a person applied for refugee status, they may remain in Japan while the decision was being made up until the updated legislation was adopted.
Now, after three denials, they can be deported.
According to Justice Minister Ken Saito, the proposed law will “protect those who must be shielded while strictly handling people who have violated rules.”
Even if they are not escaping danger or persecution, “there are many people who misuse the application system to avoid deportation,” claims Saito.
Only 202 of the approximately 12,500 applications were granted refugee status in Japan last year, while 1,760 people were also permitted to stay in the country for “humanitarian considerations”.
More than 2,400 Ukrainian evacuees have also been welcomed on a different plan.
Activists held demonstrations against the altered law, but the ruling coalition, which has a resounding majority, rejected a protest from the opposition bloc in parliament.
In an attempt to stop a vote on the amendments, opposition MPs confronted the head of a committee debating the measure on Thursday, causing a commotion in the chamber.
The Tokyo Bar Association stated this week that “it is untenable to deport people, even if they have felony convictions, to countries that may violate their human rights” and where “their lives and liberty would be in danger.”
According to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the changes will give persons whose claims for asylum are still pending better access to medical treatment and housing options.
Since the death of Wishma Sandamali, a 33-year-old Sri Lankan woman, in 2021, the conditions of immigration detention in Japan have been under criticism.
Sandamali, who purportedly sought police protection to flee an abusive relationship, was not an asylum applicant and was instead detained for exceeding her visa’s validity.
Her family is suing the government for more than $1 million in damages related to her passing.
According to reports, Sandamali frequently complained of stomach pain and other problems, and activists claim she didn’t get the proper medical attention.
Two years earlier, officials in power abandoned an effort to pass comparable legal changes to immigration laws due to controversy and political pressure around the occurrence.
The amended measure, according to Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer for Sandamali’s family, is “equivalent to having a button to execute those who seek refuge by deporting them,” he told AFP on Thursday.
“Japan’s refugee recognition system is not working,” he claimed, claiming that officials swiftly rejected applications, occasionally without conducting in-person interviews.
Amnesty International also stated in March that Japan should not move through with the proposed changes to its immigration rules because of the “harsh” and “repressive” nature of its detention practices.