NGOs target immigration center
West Japan facility under fire over human rights abuses
By ERIC JOHNSTON
The Japan Times April 30, 2002
OSAKA -- Amid concerns over allegations of human rights abuses at the West
Japan Immigration Detention Center in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, local
nongovernmental organizations will form an immigration watchdog group later
The formation of the group comes just over a year after the NGOs started
receiving reports that detainees at the center had been mistreated and that
conditions there are exceptionally harsh when compared with those at
equivalent centers in Tokyo.
In mid-April, immigration authorities at the center refused to respond to
questions by Osaka-based NGOs over the treatment of detainees.
"Five Osaka NGOs, led by Rights of Immigrants Network Kansai, are banding
together in late April in order to track allegations of human rights abuses at the
West Japan Immigration Detention Center in Ibaraki and the Osaka
Immigration Center in central Osaka," Michitsune Kusaka of RINK said.
Since the end of March 2001, RINK and other groups involved in aiding
detainees have detailed several incidents, all of which have been reported by
the local media.
On May 7, 2001, for example, Ugandan Samuel Daka claimed he was beaten
by guards at the Ibaraki center after he refused to be placed in solitary
confinement. He later filed a lawsuit in the Osaka District Court.
On Oct. 16, guards at the center bound a Chinese detainee in a blanket and
tried to put him on a plane to China. Upon seeing his condition, however, the
pilot refused to take off, forcing authorities to take him back to the center.
Just two weeks later, immigration authorities reported that a detained
Vietnamese man had committed suicide.
"It has been common at the center for the administration to ignore the length of
confinement specified on the immigration detention order," wrote Daka in a
letter to the local media after the Vietnamese death. "A number of refugees,
students, Asians and others have been detained for more than a year with no
provisions of bail or clear explanations of why they have to be deported."
Two detainees who have been held at the center for nearly two years are
Ethiopians Gezahgne Seyoum Abebe and his wife, Yewubdar Tsegaye
Sailedingel, both of whom are trying to get refugee status.
Gezahgne first came to Japan on a six-month visa in September 1996 as a
Japan International Cooperation Agency trainee. In spring 1997, however, he
got an urgent phone call from his wife, who said the political situation had
deteriorated and Ethiopia was no longer safe.
He stayed in Japan illegally until his wife joined him on a three-month tourist
visa in spring 1999.
The couple worked illegally in the Nagoya area until September 1999, when
friends persuaded them to seek political asylum in Japan through the Tokyo
office of Amnesty International.
After their applications were rejected in December of that year, they were
placed in the Nagoya detention center, and later moved to the Ibaraki facility.
"Appeals to have them released into the custody of their Japanese friends and
supporters have all been turned down," said Juri Yukita, a lawyer representing
"Given that they applied for refugee status after they had overstayed their visas,
it is going to be very difficult to get the courts to grant them refugee status."
The Abebes' health has been of particular concern to their Japanese supporters.
Since May 2000, the Abebes have reportedly suffered a variety of ailments,
including diarrhea, stomach pains, headaches and a toothache.
"In particular, Mrs. Abebe is in a bad way," Yukita said.
"Last May, she suffered severe stomach cramps and was placed in solitary
confinement for three days. When the couple complained, they were told by
immigration officials that their ailments could not be treated in Japan, but could
be treated in Ethiopia if they returned."
Other inmates have also told Kusaka, Yukita and other supporters that, under a
U.N. treaty, detainees should be allowed to partake in some exercise every
day. In fact, detainees at the Ibaraki center are only allowed to go outside three
times a week for 30 minutes each time.
Furthermore, even though they are married, the Abebes are held in separate
rooms and are allowed to see each other only for 30 minutes every Saturday.
The center is divided into four blocks -- two for men, one for women and one
for detainees who are to be deported.
Each block features a large common room and sleeping quarters that can hold
up to 10 detainees each. Inmates are told not to move between one block and
"Inmates have reported that they remain confined to their rooms, unlike Tokyo
immigration centers, where inmates can move freely between blocks,"
remarked Miwa Nakatsu, a local resident who has joined a support group for
the Abebe couple.
"Detainees are also supposed to get exercise for 30 minutes, four times a week.
However, there have also been reports that exercise is limited to 15 to 20
Citing privacy reasons, detention center officials refused to comment on specific
allegations of human rights' abuses, but they did not deny some have occurred.
They did admit, however, that not all of the detainees receive a full 30 minutes
of outdoor exercise.
"Outdoor exercise normally takes place four times a week, but sometimes, such
as in bad weather, the time is shortened," said Masanobu Ishida, assistant
director of the center.
"Also, not all detainees always choose to go outside for the full 30 minutes."
The NGOs have also aired concerns over the inmates' diet. They charge that
meals do not contain sufficient vitamins, and detainees have long complained
about the food's taste.
In response, Ishida said, "We will soon make changes in the menu to make the
Renko Kitagawa, a Lower House member of the Social Democratic Party who
has researched conditions at immigration detention centers throughout the
country, noted that criticism of Japan's facilities is widespread.
"The U.N. advised the Japanese government in 1998 to review its internment
policy and bring it in line with the U.N. treaty," he said.
"Noncompliance with the treaty means not following the law. However, there
have been few changes. Japan's immigration centers are not centers but jails.
The country has a long way to go to reach international standards."
Kusaka agreed with this assessment, saying, "That's why it's important that this
watchdog group be formed.
"With so many foreigners now coming to live and work in Japan illegally, often
at the encouragement of Japanese firms, the abuse in detention centers has
grown to become a major human rights problem for Japan."
The Japan Times: April 20, 2002
(C) All rights reserved