Japan's parliament started deliberations Friday on a bill to resolve the long-term detention of foreign nationals facing deportation orders that would allow asylum seekers to be released and protect those who do not qualify for refugee status under the country's strict standards.
The proposed amendment comes amid growing criticism that indefinite detention is a human rights violation. Human rights groups, however, maintain the bill still does not do enough to protect refugees in a country that accepts only about 1 percent of applications.
Supporters of refugees have aired concerns because the bill limits the number of times the deportation procedure can be halted while applying for refugee status to two.
Those supporters maintain the legislation does not address the fear that "asylum seekers can easily be deported and face persecution in their home countries."
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Cabinet approved the revision to the immigration control and refugee recognition law in February and wants to have the legislation enacted during the current ordinary Diet session through mid-June.
Currently, the only way detainees can be released from immigration centers is through "provisional release."
The amendment suggests a "supervisory measures" mechanism, whereby detainees may be released after paying a maximum deposit of 3 million yen ($27,500). Supporters, designated by immigration authorities, then monitor their situation and report back.
Those who go missing following their release could be penalized with up to one year in jail or a 200,000 yen fine.
The immigration authorities will examine individual cases to determine who may make use of the mechanism, with the expectation that foreigners who have applied for refugee status or those appealing a decision will fall into that category.
Additionally, the bill proposes creating a mechanism for "quasi-refugees" who do not fulfill Japan's strict asylum conditions but who are recognized as being unable to return to their home country due to civil war or other reasons.
The long-term detention issue garnered attention after a Nigerian man died in 2019 from a hunger strike protesting his prolonged detention at an immigration center in the southwestern prefecture of Nagasaki.
According to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, there were around 82,000 overstayers in Japan as of January, while some 10,000 accept deportation orders and repatriate every year.
Around 3,000 remain in Japan by repeatedly applying for refugee status or appealing a rejection since deportations, under the current law, are automatically stopped during the application process.
In 2020, Japan's refugee recognition rate was 1.3 percent, with one person applying for the status seven times.
Under the bill to revise the immigration law, those who voluntarily repatriate at their own expense could return to Japan one year later instead of the current five years.
Amnesty International Japan has rapped the bill for not imposing a limit on the period of detention for asylum seekers facing deportation, something that has been criticized by U.N. agencies on several occasions.