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EDITORIAL | While Protecting Rights, Immigration Law Should Be Shielded from Abusers

We cannot disregard the reality that some who are in Japan illegally threaten public safety. The immigration rules must assess each individual's circumstances.



The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau is charged with the responsibility of vetting and recognizing refugees. In Tokyo's Minato Ward (©Sankei Shimbun)

The proposed amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act is in its final stages of deliberations in the House of Councillors. Already passed by the Lower House, the amendment would revise the rules regarding the detention and repatriation of foreign nationals.

Difficulties in the deportation of illegal aliens mean they often remain in immigration detention facilities for prolonged periods. This legislation aims to correct that flaw. 

Also, currently, the same applicant can apply for refugee status an unlimited number of times. Under the amendment, however, applicants will be limited in principle to two times.

Naturally, human rights should be taken into account, even for those who remain in Japan illegally. However, we cannot disregard the reality that some who are here illegally threaten public safety. Strict immigration control is the state's responsibility.

Kurdish children gather in front of the parliament to protest the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. On April 25 (© Kyodo)

An Urgent Need for Reform

Proposed legislation to revise the immigration law was submitted to the Diet once in 2021. However, it was withdrawn due to protests from the opposition parties. This time, however, it must be enacted. We cannot afford to postpone it any further.

There are approximately 70,000 illegal residents in the country now. Of those, some 4,000 have refused to return home. Approximately 1,400 have since fled and are still at large. Excluding those provisionally released from immigration facilities, there were approximately 250 long-term detainees at the end of 2022.

Currently, even serious criminals, such as murderers, cannot be deported while their applications are pending. That is why it's vital to limit the number of times someone can apply for refugee status. Revising the rules to prevent impostors from overwhelming the system with refugee applications and violating its integrity is only reasonable. 

A plenary session of the House of Councillors, where the bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act is under deliberation. May 1, 2023. (© Kyodo)

In order to avoid prolonged detention, a new supervisory system is to be established. Those with pending applications may be detained outside the facility with a supervisor reporting their living conditions. The proposed amendment assumes this will be a relative of the detainee.

The current provisional release system allows an applicant's detention to be lifted temporarily. However, this is inadequate. Neither the guarantor nor the refugee applicant is legally obligated to report back after their release. As such, the system cannot prevent escapes. That is why the amendment imposes a reporting obligation on the individual applicant and the supervisor. However, it must be operated effectively.

Refugees talking while eating traditional Ukrainian food at an exchange in Yokohama City on the afternoon of April 28, 2022. (Sankei)

Protection for Those Fleeing Conflict Zones

The proposed amendment also includes the introduction of a system to allow those who do not meet the criteria for refugee status to stay in Japan as "persons under complementary protection." This status is similar to that of refugees and includes people fleeing conflict zones. 

For example, those displaced from Ukraine are granted special settlement status at the discretion of the Minister of Justice. However, considering the possibility of a Taiwan contingency, it is essential to have laws in place to protect refugees.

Furthermore, the government's administrative responsibilities cannot be neglected. When a Sri Lankan woman died at a detention facility in Nagoya, trust in the immigration administration plummeted. 


Inevitably, some illegal residents are at risk of persecution if they are deported to their home countries. There is an obligation to clinically assess each individual's circumstances under the system. We hope this point will be thoroughly addressed at the same time the law is revised. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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