Refugees in Japan who have their asylum applications rejected three times can be deported from the country, according to a bill that was signed into law after a vote by the parliament’s lower house on Friday (June 9). The upper house had voted on it a day earlier.
Previously, asylum seekers in Japan could stay so long as the decision process was still ongoing, no matter how many times their cases had been rejected.
Compared with other wealthy U.S.-aligned countries, Japan does not accept significant numbers of permanent immigrants, including refugees.
In 2022, around 12,500 people applied for asylum with the Japanese authorities, known for strict bureaucracy. Only 202, or less than 2 percent, had their cases accepted. Japan’s total population in 2022 was 125 million.
Meanwhile, 1,760 people were allowed to remain in the country on account of humanitarian considerations.
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Furthermore, those who seek asylum but whose cases have yet to be processed must wait in immigration detention, where living conditions have been criticized as woefully inadequate.
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The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which dominates Japanese politics, together with its minor coalition partners promoted the bill as a means of providing better access to medical care and accommodations to those whose asylum applications are pending. Justice Minister Ken Saito said that the amended law will be capable of “strictly dealing with people who have violated rules” yet also “protect those who must be protected.”
He noted that “there are many people who misuse the application system to avoid deportation,” even if they are not fleeing danger or persecution.”
A scuffle broke out in the National Diet on Thursday, when the Upper House of the Diet (as Japan’s parliament is called) voted on the law. Legislator Taro Yamamoto, former actor and leader of the minor anti-establishment Reiwa Party, physically and vocally interrupted the deliberations.
Yamamoto, known for his role in the 2000 film Battle Royale, had to be restrained by other lawmakers. He justified his actions as necessary to protect refugees, and has argued that the amendment doesn’t actually contain provisions to improve conditions in immigration detention.
Other dissenters to the amendment say that the deportations are unfair and inhumane.
“It is intolerable to deport people, even if they have criminal records, to countries that may violate their human rights” and where “their life and freedom would be in danger”, the Tokyo Bar Association said prior to the bill’s passage.
Legislator Sohei Nihi, of the Japanese Communist Party, said that the bill had been “steamrolled” through parliament and demanded that “thorough deliberations be conducted.”
A similar proposal to amend the immigration law was raised in 2021, but stalled due to the death that year of a Sri Lankan woman, Wishma Sandamali, in immigration detention. Her family is suing the Japanese government, arguing that facility staff had neglected her medical condition for months and ignored her pleas for help until she died.