Improve treatment of detainees in immigration detention centers

Not exactly home sweet home.
A growing problem . . .

Although rarely well-documented, there has been a relatively steady stream of reports alleging maltreatment of detainees inside Japan's immigration detention centers. Allegations typically have not seen the light of day because the victims are routinely and systematically denied or hindered from contact with the outside world, including family members, counsel and the news media.

According to Japanese law, the immigration detention centers are meant to house foreigners who overstay their visas, those who attempt to enter the country without proper visas, and refugees. The law states that while their cases are being determined (a process which, on average, currently takes about thirteen months), these individuals must be detained in custody. Additionally, foreign nationals convicted of crimes are often also kept there in lieu of regular prisons until they can ultimately be deported.

An unfair means to an end . . .

Unfortunately, much more often than not, the centers are used as a very simple means to a very clear end. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of detainees, their cases were 'de facto' decided as soon as they were placed in custody. The detention centers are intentionally used to apply anywhere from mild to severe pressure (both psychological and physical) upon those sequestered there to relinquish their cases and accept deportation out of Japan. For example, people seeking refugee status are required to prove they are indeed refugees and that it would be harmful to life and/or limb for them to return to their home country - a nearly impossible task when you consider that the detainee is granted little to no interaction with anyone or anything outside of the detention facility.

Imagine trying to build a defense case when you have only limited access to make outgoing phone calls (and then at your own expense, yet you have very little money) and absolutely no access to receive incoming calls, nor can you possess a cellphone or use email. Imagine grossly overcrowded and harsh conditions, cases of widespread food poisoning, and terribly inadequate medical care (when it is given at all). Imagine physical abuse, attempted suicides and hunger strikes.

A long-needed solution . . .

The Free Choice Foundation, as well as Amnesty International and other watchdog organizations, have received calls and letters from detainees alleging such practices and many more. But, gathering evidence to prove the claims can be just as difficult for those outside of the facilities as it is for them on the inside. After all, walls work to keep people both in and out. However, relenting to ever-mounting pressure and complaints of secrecy, the Ministry of Justice has announced the creation of a new third-party agency that will inspect the country's detention centers beginning in July 2010. Free Choice will also propose to the government that it install computers to allow detainees access to email services in order to collect evidence, build their cases and keep in touch with family members.

The right thing to do . . .

Mistreatment and violation of the basic rights of detainees is unconscionable. We call upon the Japanese Government to see to it that they are treated with the respect that every human being is inherently entitled to, and we call upon the Ministry of Justice in particular to expose and put an end to any and all abusive and unfair practices in the detention centers.

  • “If Japan doesn't improve treatment of detainees in immigration detention, what makes it any better than China?” -Aly Rustom, Teacher [Saitama]
  • “Potential refugees should be alerted to their rights to apply for refugee status when arriving at their entry port to help reduce the instances of applicants overstaying their visas. Political dissent in a foreign country should not be considered as a rejection point for refugee status, rather as grounds for political asylum!” -R.T., [Tokyo]
  • “Quite frightening, thinking this is a country I hope to raise my children in. ALL humans, no matter what race or creed are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect, not as vermin. What if it were your child or loved one being taken to a detention center for any given reason?? "Concentration camps" are unjustifiable in any country. Human rights NOW!!!” -T.P. [Osaka]
  • “Nobody should be killed in detention.” -Brooks Slaybaugh [Kanagawa]
  • “Japan will never become a permanent member of the UN Security Council with its dismal record of immigration detainee treatments, not to mention its poor record of accepting refugees.” -Name withheld, Teacher [Nara]