Ushiku takes viewers deep into the psychological and physical environment inhabited by foreign detainees in one of the largest immigration centres in Japan. On the eve of Japan’s recent – and highly contentious – immigration reform efforts, the media blackout the government has imposed on its immigration centres is bypassed, bringing viewers into immediate contact with the detainees, many of whom are refugees seeking asylum. Detainees are held indefinitely and subject to violent deportation attempts by Japanese authorities against a background of the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic and with the spectacle of the Tokyo Olympics looming on the immediate horizon.

Immigration Reform Proposal

Japan recently proposed strict revisions to its Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (ICRRA). This is what the government proposed:

New Limits on Application Appeals

Appeals for the reevaluation of a rejected refugee application will be limited to two, after which an asylum seeker will be issued a deportation notice, ordered to return to their country of origin.

Under the present law, asylum seekers who submit an appeal are able to remain in Japan––usually in a detention facility––while their appeal is being evaluated. This provides protection from refoulement, which is stipulated under international law.

Criminalising Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers who refuse deportation will be charged with a criminal offense, possibly being imprisoned. Lawyers and volunteers from support groups will potentially be charged as accomplices.

New “Supervisory” System

The Immigration Services Agency (ISA) will establish a “supervisory” system––in an attempt to curb long-term detention––whereby asylum seekers will not be required to live in detention facilities, but rather with relatives, support groups or lawyers who will act in the capacity of a supervisor.

An asylum seeker’s release from a detention facility will require a deposit of up to $30,000 and their supervisor will have the duty of reporting their daily lives to the ISA.

There are still no assurances of being granted a work permit, nor will asylum seekers be granted access to public assistance, such as the national health insurance scheme.

No Limit to Indefinite Detentions

No revisions are made to include a limit on detention periods at immigration centres; the proposal does not address the lack of transparency on the part of the Immigration Services Agency; and those who qualify for the ‘supervisory’ system are determined at the ISA’s discretion.

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