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Japanese immigration policy A nation’s bouncers A suspicious death in police custody

2010年5月13日 木曜日

Extract from The Economists (2010/5/13)

Japanese immigration policy
A nation’s bouncers
A suspicious death in police custody

May 13th 2010 | TOKYO | From The Economist print edition

ABUBAKAR AWUDU SURAJ was already unconscious when the cabin crew of EgyptAir MS965 saw him on board, before the Tokyo-to-Cairo flight. Shortly later he was dead. A Ghanaian who had lived illegally in Japan, Mr Suraj was being deported on March 22nd, when he was lifted and forced onto the plane in handcuffs with a towel gagging him and knotted in the back to restrain him. An autopsy failed to determine a cause of death, yet his widow saw facial injuries when she identified the body. Three days later an Immigration Bureau official admitted: “It is a sorry thing that we have done.”

The death is putting Japan’s controversial immigration policy under a sharper spotlight. The country has long eschewed immigration. In recent months, however, its resistance has become even tougher. Families have been broken apart as parents of children born in Japan have been detained and deported. People who seemed to qualify for a special residency permit (SRP), designed for those who overstay their visa but wish to remain, have been denied. Forced deportations have become more frequent and rougher, according to the Asian People’s Friendship Society, a Japanese immigrant-support group. Japan’s Immigration Control Centres, where many illegal residents are detained, have faced special criticism. This year alone, two detainees have committed suicide, one has publicly complained of abuse, and 70 inmates staged a hunger strike demanding better treatment.

Around 2m foreigners live legally in Japan, which has a population of 128m; the justice ministry counted 91,778 illegal residents as of January. But the number, boosted by cheap Chinese labourers, may well be much higher. After a nine-day research trip last month, Jorge Bustamante, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, complained that legal and illegal migrants in Japan face “racism and discrimination, exploitation [and] a tendency by the judiciary and police to ignore their rights”.

The SRP system is an example of the problem. No criteria for eligibility are specified. Instead, published “guidelines” are applied arbitrarily. And people cannot apply directly for an SRP: illegal residents can only request it once in detention, or turn themselves in and try their luck while deportation proceedings are under way. So most illegal residents just stay mum. Mr Suraj fell into the SRP abyss after he was arrested for overstaying his visa. Although he had lived in Japan for 22 years, was fluent in the language and married to a Japanese citizen, his SRP request was denied.

Why the tougher policy now? Koichi Kodama, an immigration lawyer assisting Mr Suraj’s widow, believes it is a reaction to the appointment last year as justice minister of Keiko Chiba, a pro-immigration reformer; the old guard is clamping down. The police are investigating the incident and the ten immigration officers in whose custody Mr Suraj died, though no charges have been brought. As for Mr Suraj’s widow, she has yet to receive details about her husband’s death or an official apology. The topic is one Japanese society would rather avoid. The press barely reported it. Still, when her name appeared online, she was fired from her job lest the incident sully her firm’s name.

Wife presses for details in death of deportee

2010年4月21日 水曜日

Extract from Japan Times (2010/4/21)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wife presses for details in death of deportee

Staff writer
The Japanese wife of a Ghanaian who died last month while he was being deported for overstaying his visa called Tuesday on police and the Immigration Bureau to disclose exactly how he died.

“I want the government to unveil the truth as soon as possible to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents,” the wife of the deceased man, Abubakar Awudu Suraj, told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

The FCCJ agreed not to reveal the wife’s name.

Police said Suraj was confirmed dead in a hospital March 22 after an undisclosed number of immigration officers overpowered him when he became violent in an airplane before it departed Narita International Airport that day for Cairo.

The wife’s lawyer, Koichi Kodama, questioned the police investigation, which has not resulted in any arrests.

“If a man died after five or six civilians, not public servants, held his limbs, they would undoubtedly be arrested,” Kodama said, adding he told “exactly that to the prosecutors” he met with Monday in Chiba.

The Chiba police are questioning about 10 immigration officers and crew of Egypt Air, Kodama quoted a Chiba prosecutor as saying. Police said March 25 the cause of death was unclear after an autopsy. Kodama said a more thorough autopsy is being performed.

Suraj’s wife is considering suing the government, but she and Kodama are holding off pending further evidence of malpractice by immigration officers.

“Lawyers have no authority to collect evidence, and thus we have to wait for police to disclose evidence,” he said.

According to Mayumi Yoshida, the assistant general secretary of Asian People’s Friendship Society, she and Suraj’s wife went to the Justice Ministry, which oversees the Immigration Bureau, on March 25 to ask the ministry for details of how Suraj died.

Yoshida quoted a ministry official as saying immigration officers “seem to have used a towel for (Suraj’s) mouth and a handcuff.”

“That is all we know” about how Suraj died, she said.

Suraj came to Japan on a temporary visa, which expired in 15 days, in May 1988, according to Yoshida. He was arrested on suspicion of staying illegally in September 2006, and received a deportation order in November that year. The same month, his wife registered their marriage.

In February 2008, the Tokyo District Court ruled the deportation order be waived. But in March 2009, the Tokyo High Court repealed the district court’s ruling on grounds the couple was childless and the wife was economically independent, Yoshida said.

Born in Japan, but ordered out (The Washington Post)

2010年1月17日 日曜日

Extract from The Washington Post (2010/1/17)
By Blaine Harden

TOKYO — Fida Khan, a gangly 14-year-old, told the court that immigration authorities should not deport him and his family merely because his foreign-born parents lacked proper visas when they came to Japan more than 20 years ago.

During the past two decades, his Pakistani father and Filipino mother have held steady jobs, raised children, paid taxes and have never been in trouble with the law.

“I have the right to do my best to become a person who can contribute to this society,” Fida told a Tokyo district court in Japanese, the only language he speaks.

But the court ruled last year that Fida has no right to stay in the country where he was born. Unless a higher court or the Minister of Justice intervenes, a deportation order will soon split the Khan family, sending the father, Waqar Hassan Khan, back to Pakistan, while dispatching Fida and his sister Fatima, 7, to the Philippines with their mother, Jennette.

Aggressive enforcement of Japanese immigration laws has increased in recent years as the country’s economy has floundered and the need for cheap foreign labor has fallen.

Nationality in Japan is based on blood and parentage, not place of birth. This island nation was closed to the outside world until the 1850s, when U.S. warships forced it to open up to trade. Wariness of foreigners remains a potent political force, one that politicians dare not ignore, especially when the economy is weak.

As a result, the number of illegal immigrants has been slashed, often by deportation, from 300,000 in 1995 to just 130,000, a minuscule number in comparison to other rich countries. The United States, whose population is 2 1/2 times that of Japan’s, has about 90 times as many illegal immigrants (11.6 million).

Among highly developed countries, Japan also ranks near the bottom in the percentage of legal foreign residents. Just 1.7 percent are foreign or foreign-born, compared with about 12 percent in the United States. Japan held a pivotal election last year and voters tossed out a party that had ruled for nearly 50 years. But the winner, the Democratic Party of Japan, has so far done nothing to alter immigration policy.

That policy, in a country running low on working-age people, is helping to push Japan off a demographic cliff. It already has fewer children and more elderly as a percentage of its population than any country in recorded history. If trends continue, the population of 127 million will shrink by a third in 50 years and by two-thirds in a century. By 2060, Japan will have two retirees for every three workers — a ratio that will weaken and perhaps wreck pension and health-care systems.

These dismal numbers upset Masaki Tsuchiya, who manages a Tokyo welding company that for seven years has employed Waqar Khan.

“If Khan is deported, it will not be possible to find anyone like him, as many Japanese workers have lost their hungriness,” said Tsuchiya, who has urged Japanese immigration officials to rescind the deportation order for the Khan family. “When the Japanese population is declining, I believe our society has to think more seriously about immigration.”

At the Ministry of Justice, immigration officials say they are simply carrying out rules politicians make. The rules, though, are not particularly precise. They grant wide leeway to bureaucrats to use their own discretion in deciding who stays and who gets deported. Last year, immigration officials granted “special permits” to 8,500 undocumented foreigners, with about 65 percent of them going to those who had married a Japanese citizen.

Exercising their discretion under the law, immigration authorities last year offered Noriko Calderon, 13, the wrenching choice of living with her parents or living in her homeland. The girl, who was born and educated in the Tokyo suburbs, could stay in Japan, the government ruled. But she had to say goodbye to her Filipino mother and father, who were deported after living illegally in Japan for 16 years. Following tearful goodbyes at a Tokyo airport, Noriko remained in Japan with an aunt.

Japan’s growing need for working-age immigrants has not gone unnoticed by senior leaders in government and business. Slightly relaxed rules have admitted skilled professionals and guest workers. The number of legal foreign residents reached an all-time high of 2.2 million at the end of 2008, with Chinese accounting for the largest group, followed by Koreans, Brazilians (mostly of Japanese descent) and Filipinos.

Still, experts say these numbers are far too low to head off significant economic contraction. A group of 80 politicians said last year that the country needs 10 million immigrants by 2050. Japan’s largest business federation called for 15 million, saying: “We cannot wait any longer to aggressively welcome necessary personnel.”

Yet the treatment of foreign workers already in Japan is unpredictable. The government opened service centers last year to help foreign workers who lost their jobs to recession. For the first time, it offered them free language training, along with classes on social integration. As that program got underway, however, the government began giving money — about $12,000 for a family of four — to foreign workers, if they agreed to go home immediately and never come back to work.

The Khan family’s troubles began two years, when a policeman nabbed Waqar Khan on his way home from work. He was detained for nine months. Police in Japan often stop foreign-looking people on the street and ask for residency documents.

The letter of the law was clearly against Khan and his wife. He had overstayed a 15-day tourist visa by 20 years. She came into the country on a forged passport.

But they have refused to sign deportation documents, arguing that although their papers are bad, their behavior as foreigners has been exemplary. Under Japanese law, foreigners are eligible to become naturalized citizens if they have lived in the country for more than five years, have good behavior and are self-sufficient.

The Khans also argue that their children, who regard themselves as Japanese, are assets for Japan. “It is a bit weird that the country needs children, but it is saying to us, go away,” Khan said.

The family’s lawyer, Gen’ichi Yamaguchi, has tried — and so far failed — to convince immigration officials and judges that the Khans are just the sort of hardworking, Japanese-speaking immigrants that the country should embrace for the sake of its own future.

“During the bubble years, the number of illegal workers increased a lot and the police looked the other way,” Yamaguchi said. “Japan has always looked at immigrants as cheap but disposable labor.”

An appeals court is scheduled to rule on the Khan case in the first week of February.

Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.

Details released on criteria to let illegal aliens stay
-Positive factor could include raising kids here(Japan Times)

2009年7月11日 土曜日

Extract from Japan Times (2010/7/11)
By MINORU MATSUTANI (Staff writer)

The Immigration Bureau said Friday that when the justice minister decides whether to grant an illegal immigrant special permission to stay, positive factors would include that the person is living with and raising school-age children who have spent “a considerable period of time” in Japan.

Undergoing treatment for a serious disease and taking care of family members receiving such treatment will also count favorably toward the granting of such a permit, according to the updated guideline, which was released Friday and will take effect Monday.

The immigration authority issues a special permit to some illegal residents to remain in Japan on humanitarian grounds, although such a permit is typically effective for only one year and has to be reissued for continued residency.

However, details of the criteria for such a permit to be issued have not previously been made public, which some experts argue has discouraged illegal residents from declaring themselves to immigration authorities.

The Immigration Bureau has been working to revise the guidelines since April, as the government was outlining new bills to revise immigration control laws.

The Diet passed the bills Wednesday. One of them obliges the justice minister to clarify the criteria so illegal foreign residents come forward and present themselves to immigration authorities.

The bills, to be enforced within three years, tighten controls on foreigners by centralizing their personal information, including name, address and expiration of their visa, under the Justice Ministry.

However, there is concern that illegal residents will not come forward and report such information if they are unsure they will receive the special permit or be taken into custody for deportation.

According to the revised guidelines, presenting themselves to authorities will count favorably for illegal immigrants seeking the permit.

The updated guideline also says it will count favorably if one is married to a Japanese, permanent resident, child of a permanent resident or a permanent settler — for example, a Latin American of Japanese descent. The old version of the guideline mentions only Japanese and permanent residents.

Not surprisingly, the guidelines take a dim view of convictions for serious crimes, including prostitution and weapons and narcotics dealing, or belonging to a crime ring.

The new guidelines also said a combination of positive and negative points will be considered in making a decision about whether to grant a special permit to stay, and merely having a point in one’s favor will not automatically result in the justice minister granting the permit.