20 foreign nationals detained at an immigration center in the Japanese city of Nagoya have started a hunger strike to demand better conditions and for their cases to be processed more rapidly. The hunger strike began on Monday, May 15, six days after detainees at another immigration facility in Tokyo launched a similar protest and following the earlier death of a Vietnamese man in custody.
Japan has been the target of criticism from human rights groups that claim it does not do enough to assist individuals from countries and regions affected by war or civil strife. In the 22 years up to 2004, they point out, an average of 15 people were granted asylum per year, a figure that is 0.2 percent of those who applied for the status.
In 2013, Japan's Ministry of Justice (MOJ) approved only six asylum seekers' applications for refugee status out of 3,777 cases (0.1 percent approval rate), the lowest number in 16 years. In 2014, the number of people granted asylum rose to 11; the figure climbed to 27 in 2015 and 28 in 2016 - accounting for about 0.4 percent of all applications received.
In comparison, the percentage of people granted asylum in countries like Germany and Canada comes to around 40 percent of the total.
There have also been complaints about thousands of asylum seekers spending years going through administrative and judicial appeals with little to no hope of refugee status awaiting them at the end of the process.
The hunger strikers in Nagoya are also protesting about their dire living conditions. Often five people are required to share an eight "tatami" mat room, with one "tatami" traditionally measuring 88cm by 176cm. They have no access to computers or mobile phones and need to purchase pre-paid phone cards if they want to call out of the detention center. They have an exercise area but have no view outside the facility. One of the biggest complaints is over food. Each detainee receives a bento box meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and while the authorities try to meet the dietary requirements of different religions and medical complaints, the meals are monotonous and lacking in nourishment, detainees have complained to Amnesty.
There have been, however, at least 13 deaths in immigration centers since 2006. The most recent case was in March, when a 47-year-old Vietnamese man named Nguyen The Huan died of a stroke at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo. Nguyen had been complaining of headaches and neck pain for a week and on the day of his death, guards assumed he was asleep in his cell. When he was finally checked, six hours later, Nguyen was unconscious and not breathing. He could not be resuscitated. The death of Nguyen barely made to the Japanese newspapers and even less has been reported about the two detention center hunger strikes.
Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University explained, Japan's declining birth rate and ageing population means that the nation will sooner or later be confronted by the issue of large-scale immigration..