Immigration detainees at a Japanese detention facility remained on hunger strike Thursday in protest of consecutive long-term detentions, forced deportations, and what hunger strikers have described as intimidation and blackmail by authorities, drawing fresh attention to tough Japanese immigration policies.
More than 20 detainees launched their hunger strike on Tuesday, with more than a dozen joining them on Thursday, one of the protesters and an activist told Reuters.
The foreign nationals – who are from China, Peru, India, Iran, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cameroon and Nigeria – are among 570 who are currently facing incarceration in the Tokyo facility, according to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau. Some of the hunger strikers had come to Japan as asylum seekers or resided in the country for decades as migrant workers, Provisional Release Association in Japan head Mitsuru Miyasako told Reuters.
“Long-term detainment is hard even just one time, but that has been repeated two or three times,” Miyasako told Japan Times in a separate interview. Some of the strikers have been detained for six months at a time, while one has been held for over a year, the advocate explained
“For them, it’s an intolerable violation of human rights,” he added.
The protesters also demanding improvements to conditions in other migrant incarceration compounds. The death of a Vietnamese detainee at another detention facility in March provoked criticism about conditions inside.
Some of the protesters are refusing to drink water, according to Japan Times, underlining the gravity of the strikers' grievances. One of the strikers became ill Thursday night, according to reports.
Immigration, seen by some Japanese as a threat to security and national identity, roils many in an ethnocentric country that places value on its homogeneity, both in cultural and ethnic terms.
“We want them to exploit the existing appeals system rather than protest through a hunger strike,” a bureau official told Kyodo news agency.
According to reports, authorities gave the protesters a complaint box to register their grievances through what authorities call the "proper channels."
Justice Ministry official Shigeki Otsuki confirmed that the detainees were refusing their meals.
Otsuki said he could not immediately say if detentions were rising, but said 387 men and 189 women were currently held at the Tokyo center.
"We need change. We need to stop this system," one of the hunger strikers said. The inmate was detained once for 10 months.
The strike follows two hunger strikes protesting poor medical care in detention at a center in Osaka.
A Reuters investigation last year into the death of a Sri Lankan at the same Tokyo center revealed serious deficiencies in medical treatment and monitoring in the immigration detention system.
Japan accepted just 28 asylum seekers last year from a record 10,901 applications, throwing a spotlight on the nation's reluctance to accept foreigners.