Foreigners detained in Japan stage hunger strike to stay

Dozens of foreigners seeking permission to stay in Japan have staged a hunger strike while in detention, highlighting what human rights advocates say is shoddy treatment of foreigners here.

Supporter Mitsuru Miyasako told reporters Thursday many had been recruited to work in Japan during the "bubble economy" about 30 years ago but are now being told to go home.

None has been charged with a crime. About half are seeking refugee status, although only about 0.3 percent of such applicants are awarded asylum in Japan. Many have had children in the country.

The hunger strike, which started May 9 with 22 people in a Tokyo immigration detention center, expanded to 70 people there. Thirty people in another city joined. It ended Tuesday because they were suffering health problems and had "reached their limit," Miyasako said.

During the initial days of the hunger strike, some people didn't even drink water, and three — from China, Nigeria and Bangladesh — became unconscious and were hospitalized, Miyasako said in a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Tokyo. They have since recovered.

Immigration officials say such people simply need to leave Japan.

"The decision has been made that they are to return and so we keep talking to them to convince them of that," said Kazuyuki Tokui, a Justice Ministry official.

Miyasako, who heads a support group called Provisional Release Association in Japan, said the detention centers have insufficient medical care.

In March, a Vietnamese man in his 40s died of a stroke after being found unconscious in his room at an immigration facility in Ibaraki prefecture, near Tokyo. Tokui said the government saw the death as a serious problem and is investigating.

Although Japan has in recent years begun an aggressive campaign to welcome tourists to boost its economy, it has long had a reputation as insular and unfriendly to outsiders.

Nearly 1,300 people are being held at detention centers nationwide, according to the ministry. The largest number came from China. Those who staged the hunger strike came from China, Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Ghana, Peru and other nations, according to Miyasako.

The hunger strike has not produced any change to their status, and a request that was submitted with the hunger strike for better conditions and a chance to live with visas in Japan has not even been officially accepted.

"I don't think the government of Japan has any intention to make improvements to the immigration system," said Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who advises Miyasako's organization.


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