US State Dept. 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Japan: Highlights for Debito.org Readers

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Hi Blog.  Every year, the US State Department issues its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”.  As highlighted by the Shingetsu News Agency, the 2018 Report on Japan came out last March.  Now while it’s quite rich for the US to be reporting on other countries (but not, notably, itself) while it has an ongoing human-rights debacle for detained foreign entrants and asylum seekers (and their children) around its southern border, this Report has been cited over the years as authoritative (and it has also included the work of Debito.org and others).

So here are the highlights on issues pertaining to Debito.org.  As you can see, a lot of information is glossed over.  Read the Report on Japan in its entirety here.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.

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2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Japan

MARCH 13, 2019

Courtesy https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/japan/

Highlights:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

Prison and Detention Center Conditions:
Prison management regulations stipulate that independent committees inspect prisons and detention centers operated by the Ministry of Justice and detention facilities operated by police. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, and local citizens, to interview detainees without the presence of prison officers.

By law third-party inspection committees also inspected immigration detention facilities, and their recommendations generally received serious consideration.

Domestic and international NGOs and international organizations continued to note that this process failed to meet international prison inspection standards. As evidence, they cited the Justice Ministry’s control of all logistical support for the inspection committees, the use of ministry interpreters during interviews with detainees, and a lack of transparency about the composition of the committees.

[More on what’s been glossed over about detention centers etc. here.]

D. ARBITRARY ARREST OR DETENTION

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Civil society organizations reported on ethnic profiling and surveillance of foreign Muslims by the police, according to the August report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency (NPA), and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Some NGOs criticized local public safety commissions for lacking independence from or sufficient authority over police agencies. […]

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations continued to allege that suspects confessed under duress, mainly during unrecorded interrogations, calling for recording entire interrogations for all cases. Prosecutors’ offices and police increasingly recorded entire interrogations for heinous criminal cases, cases involving suspects with intellectual or mental disabilities, and other cases on a trial basis; however, recording was not mandatory, and there was no independent oversight of this practice.

Police inspection offices imposed disciplinary actions against some violators of interrogation guidelines, although the NPA did not release related statistics. […]

[More on what’s been glossed over about police interrogation tactics here.]

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Pretrial Detention
Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pretrial detention, known as daiyou kangoku (substitute prison), usually continued for 23 days. NGOs reported the practice of detaining suspects in daiyou kangoku continued. NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that access to persons other than their attorneys and, in the case of foreign arrestees, consular personnel, was denied to some persons in daiyou kangoku. Nearly all persons detained during the year were held in daiyou kangoku. Beyond daiyou kangoku, extended pretrial detention of foreign detainees was a problem; examples included one person held more than 27 months (as of September) and several held for more than a year without trial. In these cases, prosecutors changed multiple times, trial dates were rescheduled and delayed, and prosecutors continued to request “additional time” to investigate matters that, according to the defendant’s counsel, did not warrant the trial’s further delay or additional preparatory pretrial meetings, which are common for jury system cases. […]

Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although foreign observers noted trials may be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners, and extended pretrial detention of foreign detainees was a problem); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and, to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay-judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases, and defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.

[More on what’s been glossed over about police pretrial detention here.]

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
A. FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND PRESS

Freedom of Expression:
According to media and NGO reports, incidents of hate speech against minorities and their defenders, in particular, on the internet, grew. The national law on hate speech applies only to discriminatory speech and behavior directed at those who are not of Japanese heritage and is limited to educating and raising public awareness among the general public against hate speech; it does not carry penalties. Prosecutors have instead used another law on libel to prosecute an extremist group for hate speech, as discussed below. Additionally, on the local-government level, Osaka City and Kyoto Prefecture, where nationalist groups have frequently staged public anti-Korea events near “Korea Town” neighborhoods, as well as Kawasaki City and Tokyo Prefecture, have passed their own ordinances or guidelines to regulate hate speech.

[More on hate speech laws and issues here.]

In April the Kyoto Prefectural Prosecutors’ Office indicted a former Zaitokukai (an ultranationalist organization) senior official, Hitoshi Nishimura, on libel charges for making derogatory online and public statements about the North Korea-affiliated Chosen School in Kyoto. Attorneys for the school’s owner welcomed the prosecutors’ decision to pursue a defamation charge under the Penal Code, which carries a heavier sentence than civil charges levied against other Zaitokukai members following similar incidents in 2009.

[More on the Zaitokukai and their antics here.]

D. FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT, INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS, PROTECTION OF REFUGEES, AND STATELESS PERSONS

Access to Asylum:
The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Justice introduced revised screening procedures for refugee applications on January 15 to promote granting refugee status to genuine applicants promptly while also curbing abuse of the application process. As a result, the number of approved applications from January through June, including the approval of two previously denied applications, exceeded the number of approvals granted during all of 2017. In 2017 there were 19,629 applications, 20 of which were approved (0.1 percent). From January through June 2018, the government received 5,586 applications, 22 of which were approved (0.4 percent).

Access to Basic Services:
Refugees continued to face the same discrimination patterns sometimes seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment. Except for those who met right-to-work conditions, individuals whose refugee applications were pending or on appeal did not have the right to receive social welfare. This status rendered them completely dependent on overcrowded government shelters, illegal employment, or NGO assistance.

[More on issues facing Refugees in Japan here.]

Elections and Political Participation:
Participation of Women and Minorities:
Because some ethnic minority group members are of mixed heritage and did not self-identify, it was difficult to determine their numbers in the Diet, but a number were represented.

[Well, that’s short and under-researched.  Try here, here, and here, for a few more insights.]

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies:
The Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Counseling Office had 311 offices across the country. Approximately 14,000 volunteers fielded questions in person, by telephone, or on the internet and provided confidential consultations. Counselling in any of six foreign languages was available in 50 offices. These consultative offices fielded queries, but they do not have authority to investigate human rights violations by individuals or public organizations, provide counsel, or mediate. Municipal governments had human rights offices that dealt with a range of human rights problems.

[That too is under-researched.  These “human rights offices” hardly “deal” with problems effectively at all.]

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

International Child Abductions:
The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

[Seriously, that’s all they say.  Rubbish.]

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities:
Minorities experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.

Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and nonethnically Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals as well as “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry, sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only,” to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Although such discrimination was usually open and direct, NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting such restrictions.

Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against them in public and on social networking sites continued. Additionally, there was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans. Although authorities approved most naturalization applications, advocacy groups continued to complain about excessive bureaucratic hurdles that complicated the naturalization process and a lack of transparent criteria for approval. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and regularly encountered discrimination in job promotions as well as access to housing, education, and other benefits.

Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.

[These reporters owe it to themselves to read book “Embedded Racism“.  It’s not just “societal discrimination” when racialized discrimination is embedded in the very writing of the laws.  Start here at Chapter 4.]

Section 7. Worker Rights

B. PROHIBITION OF FORCED OR COMPULSORY LABOR

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

Violations persisted and enforcement was lacking in some segments of the labor market, for example, in sectors where foreign workers were employed; however, in general the government effectively enforced the law. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law that prosecutors used to prosecute such offenses. Not all forms of forced or compulsory labor were clearly defined by law, nor did they all carry penalties sufficient to deter violations. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

Reports of forced labor continued in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, largely in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.

Workers in these jobs experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debts to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents. For example, women from Cambodia and China recounted long hours, poor living conditions, restricted freedom of movement, and nonpayment of wages while they were working in a Gifu textile factory. Workers were also sometimes subjected to “forced savings” that they forfeited by leaving early or being forcibly repatriated. For example, some technical interns reportedly paid up to one million yen ($8,900) in their home countries for jobs and were reportedly employed under contracts that mandated forfeiture of those funds to agents in their home country if workers attempted to leave, both of which are illegal under the TITP. In 2017 the government established an oversight body, the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT), which conducted on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. There is concern that the OTIT is understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at prosecuting labor abuse cases.

Workers who entered the country illegally or who overstayed their visas were particularly vulnerable. NGOs maintained government oversight was insufficient.

Despite the prevalence of forced labor within the TITP, no case has ever led to a labor trafficking prosecution.

On December 8, the country enacted legislation that creates new categories of working visas to bring in more skilled and blue-collar workers and upgrades the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau to an agency that will oversee companies that accept foreign workers. NGOs expressed concern that the new law does not adequately safeguard against the potential for continued labor abuses, such as those that have been present in the TITP.

[…] Reports of employers forcing pregnant women to leave their jobs continued, although there are no recent data on this problem. In December media reported the case of a Vietnamese technical trainee who was told to have an abortion or quit her job.

[More on the issues involving “Trainees” etc. here.]

E. ACCEPTABLE CONDITIONS OF WORK

The minimum wage ranged from 737 to 958 yen ($6.50 to $8.50) per hour, depending on the prefecture. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($10,900) per year. […] Nonregular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 37 percent of the labor force in 2017. […]

Reports of abuses in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.). In addition, observers alleged that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the TITP working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the TITP. Some inspectors appeared reluctant to conduct investigations that could cast a negative light on a government program that business owners favored.

There were also reports of informal employment of foreign asylum seekers on provisional release from detention who did not have work permits. Such workers were vulnerable to mistreatment and did not have access to standard labor protections or oversight.

EXCERPT ENDS

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Reuters: Japan’s foreign asylum seekers tricked into Fukushima radiation clean-up

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Hi Blog. Here’s a scoop involving several layers of odious. It’s not just a matter of Japan’s poor or homeless (or other foreigners) being exploited for dangerous and life-threatening jobs cleaning up the radioactive mess in Fukushima.  Now Japan’s government is quite possibly complicit in tricking foreign ASYLUM SEEKERS into doing the dirty work for the sake of being granted extensions to their visa (which in the end turned out to be “a false promise”). All this under conditions where, according to the Reuters article below, “more than half of the 1,020 companies involved in decontamination violated labor and safety laws”. Further, as submitter JDG notes, “Asylum seekers in Japan tricked into doing nuclear decontamination work in Fukushima because when they get over-dosed on radiation and contaminated, the J-gov can always reject their asylum applications and deport them after all, right?”

As Debito.org has noted before, there is a metaphorical radioactivity to Fukushima that overwhelms law and order and corrodes all sense, bringing out the corrupt criminal underbelly of Japan’s bureaucratic and political worlds. Fukushima’s running-sore of an issue has undermined all integrity at the eventual expense of lives, particularly those of the most powerless in society. Six years after the event, the whitewashing of the issue continues. Dr. Debito Arudou

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Bangladeshi asylum seekers tricked into radiation clean-up: media
Reuters India, March 8, 2017, courtesy of JDG
By Minami Funakoshi and Thomas Wilson | TOKYO
http://in.reuters.com/article/us-japan-fukushima-asylumseeker-idINKBN16F0YN

FILE PHOTO – Big black plastic bags containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from the decontamination operation are dumped at a seaside, devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture, near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

Two Bangladeshi asylum seekers in Japan cleared up radioactive contamination from one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters on the false promise doing so would win them permission to stay in the country longer, media reported on Wednesday.

The Fukushima nuclear plant suffered multiple meltdowns after being hit by a tsunami triggered by a big earthquake on March 11, 2011. Companies decontaminating areas around the plant, which usually involves removing radioactive top soil, have struggled to find workers willing to do the job.

The two men, who arrived in Japan in 2013 saying they were escaping political persecution, said they were told by brokers and construction companies that their visas would be extended if they did decontamination work, the Chunichi newspaper reported.

“We believed the visa story because they said it’s a job Japanese people don’t want to do,” Chunichi quoted one of the men, Monir Hossain, as saying.

Reuters was not able to reach the two men.

The men did the decontamination work in Iitate village, about 50 km (30 miles) south of the plant, from January to March 2015, Chunichi said.

Japan maintains tight controls on the entry of foreign workers but asylum seekers are allowed to work while their applications are reviewed. Many have permits allowing them to stay and work that have to be renewed every six months.

Mitsushi Uragami, a justice ministry official who oversees refugee recognition, said there were no residence permits on offer for people doing decontamination.

“The length of asylum seekers’ residence permits and them doing decontamination work are unrelated. If anyone is giving inaccurate explanations about this, it’s problematic,” Uragami told Reuters.

The department was investigating the case, he said.

Takuya Nomoto, an environment ministry official overseeing decontamination, said the Chunichi report did not give the names of the companies or labor brokers involved, and as such the ministry was not able to confirm it.

The Fukushima Labour Bureau said this month more than half of the 1,020 companies involved in decontamination violated labor and safety laws last year.

Reuters revealed in 2013 that homeless men were put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima for less than the minimum wage.

Reuters also found the clean-up depended on a little scrutinized network of subcontractors – many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some with ties to organized crime.

(Reporting by Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Robert Birsel)
ENDS

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TV “Economist” Mitsuhashi Takaaki on foreign labor in Japan: “80% of Chinese in Japan are spies”: “foreigners will destroy Japanese culture”

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Hi Blog. Let’s get right to it with a post from Debito.org Reader AG:
=========================
Date: June 12, 2016
From: AG
Dear Debito:

There is a lot of discussion about immigration and work in Japan. There is a video showing a so called economist ranting and spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) about why allowing immigration into Japan is a bad idea. Perhaps you would like to see into it and share it with your community at Debito.org. I support your site in many ways and I appreciate your insight and many matters that are wrong in Japan. I understand that your bottom line is to try to make a positive change in life.

Here’s the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C18_G6wIh-Y

Sincerely, AG
=========================

COMMENT: The above video about Mitsuhashi Takaaki, a commentator, writer, TV personality, seminarist (juku), failed LDP candidate, and blogger about things he considers to be politics and economics, shows how normalized bigotry is in Japan — to the point of silliness.

Once you get past the stupid tic he has with pushing up his eyeglasses (redolent of aspiring Hollywood wannabes of the 1910s-1930s who thought their cute catchphrase, gesture, or sneeze would fuel an entire career), you realize what he’s enabling: Japanese media to espouse xenophobia.

In the video, where he’s critical of PM Abe’s policies (ignorantly portraying Abe as a proponent of importing foreign labor in order to undercut Japanese workers’ salaries), he goes beyond economics and into bigotry:  about Chinese (depicted as invading hordes with queue hairstyles, where he claims that “80% are spies” [source, please?]) and foreigners in general (they will “destroy Japanese culture”).  The research gets so sloppy that it reaches the point of silliness (at minute 0:30 they even misspelled TPP as “Trance Pacific Partnership”).  Watch the video yourself, but not as a lunch digestion aid.

In the end, Mitsuhashi is just an IT dork relishing his time in the sun, riding a patriotic wave while dividing, “othering”, and bullying minorities for his own financial gain.

Again, it’s one more indication that the long-awaited next generation of “more liberal Japanese” will be just as narrow-minded as the previous one (if not even more so, since they have no memory of the wartime excesses their embedded racism led to generations ago).  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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Reuters: Death toll mounts in Japanese Detention Centers (aka “Gaijin Tanks”) as NJ seek asylum and are indefinitely detained and drugged

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Hi Blog.  Here’s another one of Reuters’ in-depth reports (I say “another” because they did an excellent on Japan’s “Trainee” Visa system as “sweatshops in disguise” back in 2014) on Japan’s deadly Detention Centers, aka Gaijin Tanks, where people wait indefinitely for refugee status or deportation (and, according to Amnesty International, are subjected to extortion and physical abuse, because Gaijin Tanks are not officially “prisons”, and are not subject to the same incarceration oversight that actual Japanese prisons get).  So what happens?  People die.  Reuters below has done some investigative journalism that more news agencies should be doing.  Be sure to visit the link to the Reuters site as well in order to see some good stats in graphic form, not to mention related articles.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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Death in Detention
Grim toll mounts in Japanese detention centers as foreigners seek asylum
By Thomas Wilson, Mari Saito, Minami Funakoshi and Ami Miyazaki

Reuters, Filed March 8, 2016, 2:45 p.m. GMT  Courtesy of JH.

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/japan-detention/
Photo Caption:  Niculas Fernando was in Tokyo to see his son and sit out potentially violent elections at home. The Sri Lankan’s death, in a cell monitored around the clock, reveals fatal flaws in a system stretched by record numbers of asylum seekers.

日本語版 (Read in Japanese)

TOKYO – Niculas Fernando died at a Tokyo immigration detention center sometime between 9:33 a.m. and 10:44 a.m. on November 22, 2014, according to the coroner.

But it wasn’t until shortly after 1 p.m. that day that guards realized something was badly wrong – even though Fernando had been moved to an observation cell monitored via closed-circuit television after complaining of sharp chest pain.

An inmate had to alert the guards before they rushed into Fernando’s cell and tried to revive him. They found him lying face down on a mattress stained with his urine. He was lifeless.

A devout Catholic from Sri Lanka, Fernando had come to visit his son, who lives in a Tokyo suburb where he works in a restaurant kitchen. He was the fourth person to die in Japan’s immigration detention system in 13 months. In total, 12 people have died in immigration detention since 2006, including four suicides. In 2015, 14 detainees tried to kill or harm themselves at the detention center where Fernando died, according to data from the facility.

A Reuters investigation into the circumstances surrounding Fernando’s death, including dozens of interviews with detainees, immigration officials and doctors, revealed serious deficiencies in the medical treatment and monitoring of Japan’s immigration detention centers. Guards with scant medical training make critical decisions about detainees’ health. Doctors visit some of the country’s main detention centers as infrequently as twice a week. And on weekends there are no medical professionals on duty at any of the immigration detention facilities, which held more than 13,600 people in 2014.

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Three of the four deaths in detention between October 2013 and November 2014, including Fernando’s, occurred when there were no doctors on duty. Like Fernando, another one of the detainees died while in an observation cell.

Japan’s immigration system is under increasing strain. As a torrent of refugees pours into Europe, Japan also has record numbers of people landing on its shores in search of refuge. As of June last year, it had 10,830 asylum applications under review – small by Europe’s standards, but a new high for Japan, a nation that has long been reluctant to take in outsiders.

In February, more than 40 detainees went on hunger strike at a facility in Osaka to protest their conditions [As they did in 2010, to little change — Ed.]. Their main complaint: Poor medical care.

The system’s oversight, too, is limited. Members of the watchdog body tasked with monitoring Japan’s 17 detention centers are appointed by the justice minister, who oversees the detention system. The findings of the watchdog are edited by the Justice Ministry before being made public, and the ministry has failed to act on repeated recommendations for improving medical care, say its members.

“I wanted to shout at them when I heard that guards left him alone for such a long time,” said Tooru Tsunoda, a doctor and vice chairman of the watchdog body that monitors the center where Fernando died. A report by the oversight group said guards “misjudged the seriousness” of Fernando’s condition. By not sending him to hospital immediately, the report found, they “missed opportunities to avoid his death.”

Report by immigration detention watchdog body on Niculas Fernando’s death
Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki said the reports he received showed that in all four deaths, “appropriate medical steps” had been taken. “I do not acknowledge there were problems in the responses or the medical care provided.”

Fernando, who ran a travel agency back in Sri Lanka specializing in pilgrimages, hadn’t seen his son George for eight months when he reached Japan. Before he left home, he visited the many churches in his coastal hometown of Chilaw and “prayed for 24 hours,” said his wife, Magret.

A framed picture of Fernando sits on a table in the home where he and Magret lived from the time they wed in 1983. They had fallen in love and married within a month, even though Fernando’s family had initially opposed the union because Magret was nine years his elder.

The day before he died, Fernando called Magret from a payphone for inmates in the detention center. “He was not ill,” she said.

Sitting on a sofa and weeping quietly, she recalled Fernando’s last words before boarding the plane for Japan: “I’ll come back. Look after the children.”

He never returned. In fact, Fernando never made it through immigration at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

George and his wife waited in the arrival hall for Fernando after his plane landed at around 11 p.m. on Nov. 12. At 2 a.m. they learned Fernando had been detained by immigration officials who did not believe he was a genuine tourist.

“We would have loved to hear our father’s voice, but they didn’t give him the chance to talk to us,” said George, 27, speaking in Sinhalese through an interpreter at his apartment.

Two days later, George got to see his father. They met in a small room at Haneda Airport, separated by a glass partition.

“We couldn’t touch or hug,” said George.

George and his two brothers portray their father as a devoted family man who prayed daily, never drank and often took his family with him on work trips around Sri Lanka and India.

“He’d pray for at least an hour every morning, bowing down,” said his eldest son, Jerad, standing outside the home of a relative in a village near Chilaw. “His knees were black from the marks made from praying.”

One family photo shows Fernando playing a guitar as Catholic pilgrims dance behind him during a 2012 tour of churches in the north of Sri Lanka. George recalls his father joining a peace mission to a Tamil Tiger-controlled area in the late 1990s led by Bishop Malcolm Ranjith during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Fernando “voluntarily joined our group and went as part of our pilgrimage,” Ranjith, who is now archbishop of Colombo, told Reuters. He described Fernando as “a very pious person.”

Fernando also was active in one of Sri Lanka’s main political parties, and that background may be key to understanding a surprising decision he made during his detention – to ask for asylum.

George said his father was a supporter of the United National Party (UNP), which now heads the ruling coalition in Sri Lanka, and had been the target of political violence in the past. With speculation growing that national elections were imminent, Fernando timed his visit to Japan so he could sit out the vote and escape any potential violence, George said.

But facing deportation after his arrest at Haneda Airport, Fernando decided to seek asylum, which would have allowed him to stay in Japan while his request was processed. He was going to return home once any election-related violence had subsided, his son said.

Elections in Sri Lanka were formally announced on Nov. 20. Fernando died two days later, before he could file the asylum papers, George said.

George and his Sri Lankan wife have been seeking asylum themselves in Japan for almost two years. A copy of his application says George faced death threats from political rivals when he worked for the UNP, which was in opposition at the time he sought asylum.

Asylum applications have jumped more than six-fold since Japan altered its immigration rules in 2010. The change allowed asylum seekers to obtain six-month renewable work permits while their applications are reviewed. But Japan is sparing when it comes to granting asylum: Only 27 people were approved in 2015.

The rule change, combined with Japan’s chronic labor shortage and strict immigration policy, has spawned a system of backdoor immigration, as Reuters illustrated last year in an article detailing Subaru’s heavy reliance on asylum seekers who toil in the factories that supply it with car parts.

Five days after arriving, Fernando was transported from a lock-up at the airport to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, a tower block overlooking the docks and a waste-incineration plant. A one-stop shop for visa renewals, asylum interviews and deportation orders, the complex also serves as a detention center for up to 800 people.

Fernando was placed in a cell in G-Block with two other detainees, from China and Peru. Fellow detainees described him as a serious man obsessed with cleanliness.

On the Saturday morning Fernando died, James Burke, a Canadian in the adjacent cell, was awakened by the Sri Lankan’s cries. It was around 7 a.m. Noise travels easily on the block and Fernando was in obvious pain, Burke said. “He was moaning and moaning and moaning.”

Fernando’s Peruvian cellmate called the guards and told them the Sri Lankan wanted to go to the hospital because his chest was hurting. The guards refused, saying the hospitals were closed on Saturdays, according to Burke and two other detainees who witnessed the events and asked not to be named.

At least two hospitals within a few miles of the detention center are open around the clock on weekends, including Saiseikai Central Hospital, where Fernando’s body would be taken later that day. Naoaki Torisu, a senior Justice Ministry official who oversees immigration detention, declined to comment on what specifically the guards told Fernando.

“His symptoms didn’t seem that serious,” Torisu said. “If his condition had worsened, we would have called an ambulance or taken him to hospital without hesitation.”

At 7:30 a.m., guards measured Fernando’s pulse and blood pressure, according to an internal report by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau that was reviewed by Reuters. They found no abnormality, Torisu said.

But Fernando soon called for the guards again, this time more loudly. “He’s in real discomfort,” recalled Burke, who was being held at the time for overstaying his visa and is now on provisional release from immigration detention. “He was begging them, ‘I’m a Christian and I wouldn’t lie. I need to go to hospital or I’m going to die.’”

Just before 8 a.m., guards led Fernando to a room to check his condition. A report by the national Immigration Bureau, which is part of the Justice Ministry, said the guards “could not grasp the seriousness” of the situation because another Sri Lankan detainee who was acting as an interpreter did not translate Fernando’s words accurately. But the Justice Ministry’s Torisu told Reuters the guards did understand what Fernando was saying.

When the Sri Lankan returned to his cell a short while later, he looked relieved, said Burke. He gathered his Bible and clothes. “You could see it in his face – he was getting his stuff, thinking he would get help.”

But Fernando wasn’t taken to hospital. At 8:16 a.m., guards moved him to an observation cell fitted with closed-circuit television for around-the-clock surveillance of detainees who are ill, unruly or have tried to harm themselves.

Around 9 a.m. Fernando again called the guards from the cell. They told him to wait until the morning roll call was over, said Burke and two other detainees.

At 9:22 a.m., Fernando washed his hands and appeared to vomit. He then lay face down on a futon, according to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau report on his death. At 9:33 a.m., he stopped moving.

A few minutes later, a guard brought a television to Fernando’s cell. He called out but Fernando didn’t respond. Thinking the Sri Lankan was asleep, the guard didn’t check to see if he was all right, the report said. For the same reason, guards did not check Fernando for the next several hours.

Immediately after cell doors opened at 1 p.m. to allow detainees out for the afternoon break, the Sri Lankan who had interpreted for Fernando hurried to the observation cell. Fernando’s breakfast – the standard white bread, jam and boiled egg – lay untouched. Fernando wasn’t moving. His body was cold.

Alerted by the detainees, guards rushed into the observation cell. It was 1:03 p.m. – three and a half hours since Fernando had last shown any signs of life.

A guard performed CPR on Fernando, but it was too late.

An ambulance was called and his body was carried out of G-Block on a stretcher, his face uncovered, two detainees said. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead. He was 57 years old.

Koichi Uemura, a coroner asked by the national Immigration Bureau to write an in-depth autopsy report on Fernando’s death, told Reuters he was allowed to view the video footage of the Sri Lankan in the observation cell. He said it was possible to tell from the images that Fernando was struggling and moaning before he lay down in the cell.

Uemura said he was asked to compile a report after the Immigration Bureau had investigated Fernando’s death and found that “there was quite a high possibility that (the detention center) did not provide adequate medical care, and that his illness got worse because he was left unattended.” A doctor at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University who performs autopsies for the police and courts, Uemura stopped short of saying that Fernando’s death could have been avoided if guards had taken him to hospital.

The Justice Ministry rejected a public disclosure request by Reuters to view the video footage of the observation cell, citing privacy reasons.

Since 2010, the Immigration Detention Facilities Visiting Committee – the watchdog body – has repeatedly called for improvements to medical care at detention facilities. Six current and former members of the 20-person oversight body told Reuters that key recommendations have not been implemented.

Inmates voice a similar grievance. In two handwritten letters, the hunger strikers at the detention center in Osaka complained about limited access to doctors and said guards without medical training were making judgment calls about the health of detainees.

Their protest didn’t impress the authorities. Tomohisa Takayama, a spokesman for the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau, said there was no “rational reason” for the complaints, and that the hunger strike ended after five days.

In May, a former member of the watchdog wrote to then-Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa calling for full-time doctors at detention facilities, better monitoring of detainees who are unwell and improved psychiatric care.

But the watchdog lacks teeth. It doesn’t perform surprise inspections. Its visits to detention centers are pre-arranged, and its members are escorted by immigration officials.

There has been little change since the deaths. Guards have been given “fresh instructions to call ambulances” in situations where they are having trouble “making judgments,” said the Justice Ministry’s Torisu. And two guards are being trained as assistant nurses in the entire detention system, which on Nov. 1 last year was holding 1,070 inmates.

It is “probably insufficient” that there are no doctors on duty at weekends, but that doesn’t mean medical care is lax, said Torisu.

On Nov. 22, the day Fernando died, George got a call from a family friend. “He asked me to calm down, to sit down,” George recalled, his eyes filling with tears. “He told us my father had passed away… I asked God why he took my father.”

The next day, George tracked Fernando’s body to a police station near the detention center. Officers there tried to stop him from opening the white body bag that contained his father’s body.

OBSCURED: Large sections of an official report on Niculas Fernando’s death that was released to Reuters were redacted. Click here to view the report. Source: Justice Ministry, Japan

“But I opened the bag,” he said. “I asked them if they were investigating my father’s death. They said they were, and when they had the report they’d tell me.”

George has never received any of the reports on his father’s death. On Dec. 19, almost a month after he lost his father, George received the death certificate. It didn’t contain the answer he’d been seeking: Cause “unknown,” it said.

That same day, Fernando was cremated about three miles from the detention center where he died. His family had hoped for a Catholic burial in Chilaw, but could not afford to fly his body home. His third son, Jude, who traveled to Japan for the funeral, is also now seeking asylum.

It would be another three months before Fernando’s family learned from Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry that he had died of a heart attack.

“I can’t believe that I lost my father,” said George. “Japan’s immigration authorities must take responsibility for my father’s death.”

The Justice Ministry has not made public the findings of the investigation into the case nor released them to Fernando’s family.

In response to a public disclosure request, Reuters received a copy of the national Immigration Bureau’s report from March last year. It was heavily redacted. Under a section titled “Problems,” every line had been blacked out.

===================================

SUB-ARTICLE

Death, drugs and detention

By Minami Funakoshi, Thomas Wilson, Ami Miyazaki and Mari Saito
In the 13 months before Niculas Fernando died in a Japanese immigration detention center in 2014, three other men suffered the same fate.

• Anwar Hussin, 57, a Rohingya from Myanmar, died on Oct. 14, 2013, after suffering a stroke while being held at the same detention center as Fernando.

• Saeid Ghadimi, a 33-year-old Iranian, choked on food and died on March 29, 2014, at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ibaraki prefecture, a sprawling complex set among rice paddies northeast of Tokyo.

• Flaubert Lea Wandji, a 43-year-old Cameroonian, died at the same center the next day, most likely due to acute heart failure.

The names of Ghadimi and Wandji, and many of the details of their deaths, have not been previously reported.

Like Fernando, Wandji died after being moved to an observation cell so his condition could be monitored. But the guards failed to grasp the need to take Wandji to hospital, the watchdog committee that monitors Japan’s detention centers said in a report last March to the national Immigration Bureau, which is part of the Justice Ministry. The report was reviewed by Reuters.

NO PROBLEMS: Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki said ‘appropriate medical steps’ were taken in the case of all four men who died in immigration detention in the space of 13 months. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Files

The watchdog report drew attention to what it said was the heavy prescription of drugs to detainees. At the time he died, Ghadimi had been prescribed 15 different drugs, including four painkillers, five sedatives – one a Japanese version of the tranquilizer Xanax – and two kinds of sleeping pills, the report said. At one point during his incarceration, he was on a cocktail of 25 different pills.

“It is not an exaggeration to say he was in a so-called ‘drugged-up state,’” Teruichi Shimomitsu, a doctor and retired member of the watchdog body, wrote in a letter last May to then-Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa.

Naoaki Torisu, a senior Justice Ministry official responsible for overseeing immigration detention centers, said parts of the committee’s report were “unclear.”

“Detainees take pills prescribed according to their medical needs,” he told Reuters. “I cannot grasp the exact intent behind the committee’s statement.”

Two psychiatrists cited in a November 2014 national Immigration Bureau report said the Iranian’s medications did not cause him to choke.

The prescription of sedatives and antidepressants is common in Japan’s detention centers, say doctors and detainees. Some inmates told Reuters they were given sedatives after arguing with guards or other detainees. Others said they became dependent on the drugs as they faced indefinite detention.

Checks are needed to ensure doctors do not prescribe “massive amounts” of sedatives to keep “rebellious” detainees quiet, Shimomitsu wrote in his letter to then-Justice Minister Kamikawa.

The Justice Ministry’s Torisu disputed that sedatives were used to pacify troublesome detainees. “Psychiatrists prescribe them because they are deemed medically necessary,” he said.

—————

ENDS

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JK on emerging GOJ policies towards refugees & immigration, still not allowing them to stay in Japan: “tourists yes, refugees & immigrants no”

mytest

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Hi Blog. Debito.org Reader JK keeps sending me intriguing tacks on recent articles (thanks), and here’s another bunch:

Debito.org hasn’t talked as much as other topics about the Government of Japan (GOJ)’s attitude towards refugees (in that, the acceptance of refugees is one measure of international contributions by the club of rich, developed countries and UN treaty signatories). But it is safe to say that the GOJ has not been cooperative, accepting fewer people in total over the past sixty years than some countries do in a single year — as the United Nations is aware.

So now the Abe Administration is trying a different tack:  Accepting refugees as temporary students, and then sending them “home” someday.  JK parses that to bits below.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

/////////////////////////////////

From:  JK

Hi Debito:

From articles cited at the very bottom:

“The idea is that by accepting refugees as students, Japan could aid in training personnel for the later reconstruction of Syria.”

「留学生の受け入れで、将来的にシリアの再建に関わる人材の育成に寄与したい 考え。」

…and…

“The plan represents the government’s efforts to think of a way to contribute to solving the Syria issue, without influencing the current refugee authorization system.”

「政府としては、現状の難民認定制度の枠組みや基準に影響を与えない形で、実 質的にシリア問題に貢献できる方法を探った形だ。」

Translation: GOJ doesn’t want to look bad at the UN in front of the other nations who are actually doing something to help refugees, so what to do?…Ah! Accept refugees as students to make it look like Japan is making a difference — Japan trains the Syrians so that one day they can go ‘home’ and fix everything up, and as students, they’re not in a position to stay for good as would be the case if they were accepted as refugees. It’s a win-win!

My armchair social theory is that the GOJ’s view of NJ is strictly monetary (i.e. get money from NJ tourists, give money to NJ refugees; NJ trainees / NJ bribes, etc.).

Abe speaks to boost Japan tourism at New York event
http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002455922

Japan will do more to be well prepared to host foreign guests going into the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, he said at the seminar also joined by former New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui and U.S. actress Charlotte Kate Fox.

Abe: Japan ready to help refugees, but not take them in
http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20150930p2g00m0in032000c.html

“As an issue of demography, I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise (the) birth rate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants,” Abe told a news conference, according to the official translation of his comments.

Translation: Accepting immigrants is the last thing we should do.  Sincerely, JK

/////////////////////////////////

Sources:

難民:「受け入れ」検討…政府、シリアから留学生として
http://mainichi.jp/select/news/20150925k0000m010107000c.html

毎日新聞 2015年09月25日 09時00分

シリアなどから欧州に難民が押し寄せている問題を受け、日本政府はシリアから留学生として難民を受け入れる方向で検討に入った。欧州連合(EU)はギリシャなどに着いた12万人の難民受け入れで合意。米国も人数を年々増やし、2017会計年度には10万人を受け入れる方針を表明した。28日からニューヨークの国連総会で行われる各国首脳らの一般討論演説では、難民問題も議題になる見通しで、日本としてシリア問題に貢献する姿勢を国際社会に表明する狙いがある。

関係者によると、難民問題の解決に向けた資金拠出に加え、人的な面でも貢献できないか検討。留学生の受け入れで、将来的にシリアの再建に関わる人材の育成に寄与したい考え。

法務省によると、昨年の難民認定者数は5000人の申請者に対し11人。シリアからの難民申請者も、ほとんどが人道的配慮による在留許可にとどまる。留学生としての受け入れは、通常の難民認定とは異なるが、正規の資格で日本に滞在できる。政府としては、現状の難民認定制度の枠組みや基準に影響を与えない形で、実質的にシリア問題に貢献できる方法を探った形だ。【三木幸治、隅俊之】
【毎日新聞】
//////////////////////////////////////////////

Japanese gov’t considers accepting Syrian refugees as students
September 25, 2015 (Mainichi Japan)
http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20150925p2a00m0na002000c.html

Japanese gov’t considers accepting Syrian refugees as students

As refugees from Syria and other countries pour into Europe, the Japanese government has begun to ponder accepting Syrian refugees in the form of students.

The European Union has agreed to accept 120,000 refugees that have arrived in countries including Greece, while the United States has announced its intention to accept an increasing number of refugees over the years, with 100,000 to be accepted in fiscal 2017. During speeches by member nations’ heads of state at the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly in New York starting Sept. 28, the refugee problem is expected to be discussed, and Japan aims to display to the international community its contributory stance in trying to solve the Syria problem.

According to an insider source, in addition to helping fund the solving of the refugee problem, considerations are also being made over whether Japan can contribute on the human side of the issue. The idea is that by accepting refugees as students, Japan could aid in training personnel for the later reconstruction of Syria.

The Ministry of Justice says that last year out of 5,000 refugee applicants, Japan approved 11. Most of the refugee applicants from Syria are only being allowed to stay out of humanitarian consideration. Acceptance as students, while different from the normal system of accommodating refugees, would allow refugees to be in Japan with official authorization. The plan represents the government’s efforts to think of a way to contribute to solving the Syria issue, without influencing the current refugee authorization system.
ENDS
//////////////////////////////////////////////

Abe speaks to boost Japan tourism at New York event
http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002455922
8:05 pm, September 29, 2015 Jiji Press

NEW YORK (Jiji Press) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that he wants people to know more about Japan and have more exchanges with Japanese people.

Abe made the comments at a seminar organized at a New York hotel by the Japan National Tourism Organization to promote visits to Japan.

Japan will do more to be well prepared to host foreign guests going into the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, he said at the seminar also joined by former New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui and U.S. actress Charlotte Kate Fox.
ENDS
//////////////////////////////////////////////

Abe: Japan ready to help refugees, but not take them in
September 30, 2015 (Mainichi Japan)
http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20150930p2g00m0in032000c.html

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Japan’s prime minister said Tuesday that his nation needs to attend to its own demographic challenges posed by falling birth rates and an aging population before opening its doors to refugees.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced at the U.N. General Assembly that Japan is ramping up assistance in response to the exodus of refugees to Europe from the Middle East and Africa.

He said Japan will provide $1.5 billion in emergency aid for refugees and for stabilization of communities facing upheaval.

But speaking to reporters later Tuesday he poured cold water on the idea of Japan opening its doors to those fleeing.

He said Japan first needed to attend to domestic challenges which he proposes to tackle under a revamped economic policy that aims to boost GDP to a post-war record level, while bolstering the social security system to support families.

“As an issue of demography, I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise (the) birth rate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants,” Abe told a news conference, according to the official translation of his comments.

He added that Japan would “discharge our own responsibility” in addressing the refugee crisis, which he described as helping to improve conditions that cause the exodus.

Abe earlier told the world body that Japan would provide $810 million this year for emergency assistance of refugees and internally displaced persons from Syria and Iraq, triple what it gave last year. Abe said Japan is also preparing about $750 million for stabilization efforts in the Middle East and Africa.

Japan prides itself on being a good global citizen. It is one of the largest aid donors in the world. Last year Japan gave $181.6 million to the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, making it second only to the United States in generosity.

But it has offered very few if any resettlement places for refugees from the civil war in Syria.

According to Ministry of Justice data, it accepted just 11 asylum seekers out of a record 5,000 applications last year, although Japanese officials say most of the asylum applicants were from other Asian countries and were already living in Japan.

Some argue that increased immigration could help arrest a shrinking population, which is currently 126 million. Abe says he is determined to ensure that in 50 years the Japanese population has stabilized at 100 million.

ENDS