Japan withdraws bill harming asylum seekers after facing opposition over Sri Lankan detainee death
MasashiWakui / Pixabay
Japan withdraws bill harming asylum seekers after facing opposition over Sri Lankan detainee death

The government of Japan pulled a bill Tuesday meant to amend the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. The decision follows criticism stemming from the death of a 33-year-old Sri Lankan woman at an immigration detention center in Nagoya in March. The woman had been held at the detention center since August 2020 after her visa had expired. She had arrived in Japan in 2017 on a student visa, but her cause of death remains unknown.

Cabinet had approved the revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in February, and the National Diet was considering the proposed amendments. The bill has received an intense backlash from activists and lawyers. A rally organized in opposition to the bill was attended by opposition lawmakers and human rights organizations. At the same time, an online petition raised more than 100,000 signatures.

The bill contained many provisions that undermined the rights of asylum seekers. It provided for the lifting of automatic suspension of deportation procedures for persons who apply for refugee status beyond the third time without reasonable grounds for the grant of their application; persons with criminal records and persons who might be involved in terrorism, violent activities, or other subversive activities. At the same time, orders to leave may be issued to persons who have stated they have no intention to leave Japan voluntarily. Those who had on previous occasions obstructed their deportation using deception or force. Where an individual needed to fulfill certain obligations before deportation can be achieved, such as acquiring travel documents, an order for the performance of the said provisions may be issued to the individual. In addition to this, persons who do not comply with orders to leave or orders to fulfill obligations towards deportation were liable to penalties. Penalties had also been established for persons who fled or failed to appear when summoned.

However, some provisions were beneficial to asylum seekers. Conditions for complementary protection to persons who did not meet the refugee definition under the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees had been granted in the bill. Similarly, persons issued with deportation orders or detention orders could instead be subject to monitoring measures in place of detention. The supervising immigration inspector would select a monitor from private actors and not a government agent.

UNHCR had lauded parts of the bill stating that they were progressive in achieving adequate protection for asylum seekers. However, the UNHCR had also criticized certain aspects of the bill, such as the move to lift the automatic suspension of deportation procedures, stating that the same would violate the principle of non-refoulment under the 1951 convention.