Japan's parliament on Friday passed a bill to revise an immigration and refugee law to enable authorities to deport individuals who repeatedly apply for asylum status, despite objections from some opposition parties.

Opponents to the legislation gathered in front of the Diet building in Tokyo in the rain, demanding the bill be scrapped, while opposition lawmakers criticized the ruling camp for having "bulldozed" the bill.

The House of Councillors, or upper house, enacted the law with the support of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, as well as other relatively conservative opposition forces.

People gather in front of the Diet building in Tokyo on June 8, 2023, to protest against the House of Councillors Judicial Affairs Committee's approval the same day of a bill that would amend an immigration law enabling authorities to deport individuals who repeatedly apply for refugee status. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

While Japan currently cannot send a foreign national whose refugee status application is being processed back to their home countries, the immigration authorities suspect many have abused the system by applying multiple times to remain in the nation.

Under the amended law, the government will aim to reduce long-term detention in immigration facilities and encourage the expulsion of foreign individuals who do not comply with deportation orders issued for overstaying.

Opponents have argued that the revised legislation could result in the repatriation of those who are at risk of persecution in their home countries, endangering their lives, and also lead to the expulsion of children who were born and brought up in Japan.

As of the end of last year, 4,233 foreign nationals had refused to return home despite being ordered to do so, according to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan.

The law will allow the government to expel individuals who fail to present reasonable grounds to be granted refugee status after their third request.

Critics, however, have raised a counterargument, pointing out that some asylum seekers had had their requests approved in the past after making three or more applications.

The House of Councillors passes a bill to revise an immigration and refugee law to deport individuals who repeatedly apply for asylum status, during a plenary session in parliament in Tokyo on June 9, 2023. (Kyodo)

To provide assistance to foreigners from conflict-affected regions, the amended law offers a "quasi-refugee" status that would allow them to stay in Japan, even if they do not meet the criteria for being recognized as fully authorized refugees.

As part of efforts to prevent prolonged detention, the government will allow individuals applying for refugee status to live outside an immigration facility under the supervision of family members or supporters to avoid the risk of flight.

But opponents have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the system, saying it places a heavy burden on those monitoring the asylum seekers.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, meanwhile, called for the establishment of a third-party body to screen the refugee recognition process, currently conducted by the immigration authorities, to ensure the fairness of the procedure.

The ruling bloc rejected the request and only introduced minor changes to the bill, such as training immigration officials on how to screen asylum seekers.

In a last-minute attempt to block the passage of the revision bill, the opposition party submitted a censure motion against Justice Minister Ken Saito, who is in charge of the legislation, which was eventually voted down in the upper house on Wednesday.

Outside the Diet building on Friday, dissidents held a rally, with some raising placards with phrases written in English such as "Protect refugees."

In the run-up to the vote at the plenary session of the upper house, Taiga Ishikawa of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lambasted the legislation, saying, "This is a matter of life and death for many people."

Ishikawa also said the revised law could see asylum seekers repatriated even though they face imprisonment or torture in their home nations. The bill was finally passed, with opposition lawmakers jeering at Hidehisa Otsuji, president of the upper house.

Japan lags far behind the United States and several European countries that typically accept more than 10,000 asylum seekers annually. In 2022, the Asian nation gave refugee status to 202 people, including 147 from Afghanistan.

In 2021, the government shelved an amendment bill for the immigration law amid a growing backlash after a 33-year-old Sri Lankan woman died while being held at an immigration facility in Nagoya, central Japan that same year.

She had been complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms for a few months and ultimately died due to a lack of necessary medical care.

Earlier this year, the Kishida administration submitted to parliament the latest version of the bill, which largely retains the contents of the one that was previously withdrawn.

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