Foreigners in Japanese immigration detention end two-week hunger strike

Reuters News
Posted: May 25, 2017 6:15 AM

By Minami Funakoshi and Ami Miyazaki

TOKYO (Reuters) - Foreigners on a two-week hunger strike over conditions at immigration detention centers in Japan have ended their protest in the hope their decision would bring better treatment, but an official said on Thursday there would be no change in policies.

Activists and inmates say poor conditions in Japan's immigration detention centers have led to serious mental health problems and the death of inmates. Since 2006, 13 people have died, most recently in March.

About 20 men at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau went on hunger strike on May 9 to object against their repeated detention and what they called inhumane treatment, activists and detainees said.

At its peak, about 100 detainees, including asylum seekers and some inmates at an immigration facility in Nagoya, southwest of Tokyo, were on hunger strike, they said.

But the last of the strikers began eating this week because they had reached their physical limits and because they wanted to see if authorities would respond positively after their protest gained media coverage.

"Detainees at the Tokyo immigration center ended their hunger strike as their mental, physical and health conditions worsened," Mitsuru Miyasako, head of the activist group the Provisional Release Association, told a news conference.

"They felt they were reaching their physical limits ... They also wanted to see if the immigration authorities would change after their fight got widely reported by media."

Shigeki Otsuki, a justice ministry official overseeing immigration detention, confirmed the hunger strike had ended and said authorities were already doing what they could to improve conditions.

"We will continue to respond appropriately as we have done in the past. We won't change anything in particular," Otsuki told Reuters.

Four hunger strikers were hospitalized during the protest, one of whom swallowed a razor blade, which passed through him without causing life-threatening injury, a lawmaker briefed by immigration officials said. The four are back in detention.

One inmate, speaking to Reuters across a plastic security divide in the Tokyo center, said there might be more protests.

"If there are no changes we might do it again," said the detainee, who declined to be identified.

A Reuters investigation last year into the death at the Tokyo facility of a Sri Lankan revealed serious deficiencies in medical treatment and monitoring in the immigration detention system.

A government official said the immigration bureau would look into increasing medical staff. In April, a doctor began working on weekdays at the East Japan Immigration Centre, where a Vietnamese detainee died in March, though there is still no doctor on site around the clock.

(Reporting by Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Robert Birsel)