We should be aware of the reality of immigration detainees

On March 10th, a Zoom meeting addressing the issues facing foreign residents was held by the Ethnic Ministries Network Japan and the Mission Commission of the Japan Evangelical Association (JEA). Four pastors supporting detainees in immigration centers shared their insights.

For several years, Rev. Akira Watanabe of Tokyo Baptist Church has been holding a monthly Bible study for detainees at Ushiku Immigration Center. “Even though detainees in immigration centers aren’t being incarcerated because they’ve committed crimes, some church members view them with suspicion, wondering if they aren’t criminals, and they are hesitant to get involved,” he said. “If the amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, currently under discussion in the [Japanese Government] Diet,1 is passed, many detainees will be deported after applying three times for refugee status. However, in 2019, only 44 immigrants to Japan were granted refugee status out of the 10,375 applicants. We are a nation that excludes refugees.”

Rev. Hiroshi Yunohara of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church and Nagasaki International Church has been visiting Omura Immigration Center in Nagasaki Prefecture once a week since 2005. “I met an Iranian man there who wanted to be baptized,” he said, “so a Catholic priest and I made a joint proposal to start holding a worship service in the Immigration Center. We have been able to worship together monthly at the Center with their approval since 2010.”

Rev. Makito Miyajima of Haramachida Church (United Church of Christ in Japan) served Ushiku Church and visited Ushiku Immigration Center from 2009 to 2013. He then moved to Haramachida Church and has been visiting Shinagawa Immigration Center two or three times a month. Miyajima, who has acted as guarantor for many refugees granted provisional release, said, “We Christians should be aware that many detainees are being treated like criminals, receiving poor medical support and being unable to work under their provisional release. When a breakout of the coronavirus was discovered at Shinagawa Immigration Center, an Iranian with COVID-19 was forced to move to a single room and could not even see his lawyer.”

Rev. H. (name withheld) said, “At the request of the Ibaraki Bar Association I’ve been meeting with detainees once a month for four years at Ushiku Immigration Center as a Persian-speaking pastor. Through meeting with detainees, I have gradually become aware that serious human-rights violations are taking place there. We need to help refugees who are given provisional release, but what a small church can do is limited. Church networks should be set up and do whatever they can do to support them.”

After these four pastors spoke, participants discussed the possibility of supporting immigration detainees.

From Christian Shimbun, April 4, 2021
Translated by Tomoko Kato

1. This amendment was suspended in May, as a Sri Lankan woman, Wishma Sandamali, died in detention at Nagoya Immigration Center in March. Although she complained of poor health, it is alleged she was not given proper care. From: “Nagoya immigration center gets threat over Sri Lankan woman’s death,” The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/05/24/national/ratnayake-liyanage-wishma-sandamali-nagoya-immigration-threat/ (May 24, 2021).

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