The Cabinet on Tuesday approved proposed revisions to Japan's immigration law that include controversial measures to enable the deportation of individuals repeatedly applying for refugee status.

The latest proposals to amend the immigration law largely retain the 2021 attempt to revise the law, which was withdrawn amid opposition backlash and controversy over the death of a 33-year-old Sri Lankan woman detained in an immigration facility.

While the government intends to enact the bill within the current Diet session, the inclusion of a new rule on how to accommodate foreigners facing deportation continues to face objections from support groups for foreign nationals, and opposition parties may attempt to block its passage.

The revisions aim to resolve issues around Japan's "detention-centered" model of immigration policy, which has led to some foreign nationals who refuse deportation orders spending indeterminate and extended periods of time detained in the country's immigration facilities.

Minister of Justice Ken Saito speaks to reporters in Tokyo following the Cabinet's approval of proposed revisions to Japan's immigration law, on March 7, 2023. (Kyodo)

Speaking at a press conference, Justice Minister Ken Saito said that "issues around deportation avoidance and long-term detentions should be quickly resolved. The system will protect those who should be protected, and will respond strictly to those breaking the rules."

Among the proposed changes, the law would allow the government to deport anyone applying for refugee status on their third or later attempt who does not provide adequate reasoning for why they should receive approval.

Japan approves very few refugees, with the 74 individuals granted the status in 2021 representing a record high for the country.

Refugee supporters and others have criticized the proposed changes as putting people in grave danger of persecution in their home countries.

The proposals include the introduction of a complementary protection system, which enables the approval of residence for individuals whose circumstances do not conform to the requirements for refugee approval.

In a bid to avoid overstaying foreign nationals being placed in detention, the revisions specify a new supervisory system in which individuals are temporarily allowed to take part in socioeconomic activities under the care of nominated supporters or supervisors.

With the 2021 version of the proposed oversight system receiving criticism for placing too heavy a burden on supervisors, the latest proposals have excised requirements for them to regularly provide updates on individuals they are responsible for.

Among the additions to the law, individuals who refuse to be deported and cause disruptions can be subject to orders to leave or to criminal penalties.

In 2021, cross-party discussions to amend the proposed changes made progress but later broke down after ruling parties refused to authorize the release of security camera footage showing the Sri Lankan detainee Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali before her death at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau that year.

Wishma died after complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms for a few months, with her family alleging she was illegally detained and died due to a lack of necessary medical care and filing a lawsuit against the Japanese government.

While activists blame the indefinite detention of people facing deportation under the current asylum system, they argue the proposed revision of the law would violate the principle of non-refoulement, or not returning asylum seekers to the country they have fled from.

Plans in 2022 to table the bill were also shelved by the government and ruling bloc.

In reference to the reaction to Wishma's death and the criticism it attracted from international organizations, Saito said that the new proposals are "significantly revised" from the previous submission.

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