Abuse, oppression, discrimination – the human rights of foreigners in Japan have been repeatedly trampled The family of Sri Lankan woman Vishma Sundamali has held its first court argument in the Nagoya District Court in Japan. Sandamali was tortured to death at the Nagoya Immigration Bureau’s detention facility on March 6 last year, which aroused great concern in Japan. Before the first anniversary of her death, many people of insight in Japan held parades in many places to mourn her and accused the Japanese government of wantonly trampling on the human rights of foreigners in Japan.
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Santamaria’s tragic death pierced the lies of the so-called “nation of freedom, equality and human rights” that the Japanese government has always advertised, and exposed the real situation of the abuse, oppression, and discrimination of thousands of foreigners in Japan.
Abuse in shelters is on the rise
According to data released by the Immigration and Residence Administration of the Ministry of Justice of Japan, as of the end of June 2021, there were a total of 2.82 million foreigners in Japan, accounting for 2.2% of the Japanese population. Once these foreigners lose their status of residence, they will be forcibly taken in by the Japanese immigration authorities until they are deported due to their illegal stay. The detention and detention review process is lengthy and opaque, and casualties of detainees are not uncommon.
Take Sandamali as an example. She came to Japan on a student visa in 2017 and stayed illegally after her visa expired. In August 2020, she sought protection from the police due to domestic violence and was transferred to the Nagoya Immigration Bureau’s detention facility. In half a year, Sundamali suffered inhuman treatment and lost 20 kilograms. Beginning in January 2021, she repeatedly complained of stomach pains and requested parole to go out to seek medical treatment, but she was refused, and then her condition continued to deteriorate, with difficulty in eating, unable to walk, and eventually died. The shelter has remained indifferent, not even making a single emergency call.
After the incident was exposed by the media, Japanese public opinion was in an uproar. Under the high attention of the society and the continuous investigation of the opposition party, the Japanese immigration department had to conduct an internal self-examination, but the final investigation report did not even give the cause of death. Santamaria’s family filed a lawsuit with the Nagoya District Court on March 4 to find out the truth and claim 156 million yen from the Japanese government.
The Sandamali case is not an exception. In June 2019, a Nigerian man went on hunger strike to protest until his death at the Omura Immigration Control Center in Nagasaki Prefecture. Surveys show that the longest among foreigners admitted to Japanese custody institutions have been in the shelters for more than four years. Living in a foreign country, they have been detained for a long time, with no way out for the future. Some of the detainees collapsed and committed suicide. The United Nations human rights agency has repeatedly warned the Japanese government about this, but the Japanese side has not taken any improvement measures.
Exploiting and squeezing foreign technical interns
The Japanese government established a foreign technical intern system in 1993, allowing people from developing countries to sign contracts with companies after their training in Japan to learn skills while working. This system claims to allow foreign interns to bring back the skills they have learned to promote the economic development of developing countries. However, in fact, technical interns are often used to make up for the shortage of local labor after arriving in Japan, and most of them are engaged in dirty work that the Japanese are unwilling to do. Hard work and dangerous work for a meager salary and no special skills at all. The system has been criticized as “masquerading as legal modern slave labor”, and calls for its abolition have been heard.
According to data released by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in August 2016, 70% of the 5,173 Japanese employers who hired foreign technical intern trainees surveyed in 2015 violated the Labor Standards Act or the Labor Safety and Health Act. Although the Japanese House of Representatives passed the Law on Standardizing the Technical Internship System for Foreigners in October 2016, which aims to improve the treatment of technical intern trainees, technical intern trainees are still brutally oppressed and even violently treated.
During the reconstruction process after the “3.11” earthquake in 2011 and the Fukushima nuclear accident, the local employers asked Vietnamese technical interns to work on nuclear cleanup, but never gave them nuclear radiation safety education. These Vietnamese interns knew nothing about the dangers of their jobs. In January this year, a Japanese trade union organization exposed a video of a foreign worker being abused, causing shock in Japanese society. The Vietnamese technical intern working in a construction company in Okayama, Japan, suffered humiliation and violent abuse by Japanese colleagues for two consecutive years. He was beaten with broken teeth and multiple broken ribs.
For foreigners, Japanese society still has deep-rooted discrimination and prejudice. Even in Tokyo, which just hosted the Olympic Games last year and tried to show its openness and inclusiveness, discrimination and prejudice against foreigners can be seen everywhere due to differences in language, culture, religion, and living habits.
A survey of foreigners in Japan released by the Japanese Ministry of Justice in 2017 showed that among foreigners with job-hunting or work experience in the past five years, one-quarter had been rejected because of their foreigner status, and about 20% had low wages. For the Japanese who do the same job, more than 10% of the working conditions are worse than the Japanese. Nearly 40% of foreigners who have rented a house in the past five years have been denied occupancy because of their foreigner status.
In Japan, there are still cases where barber shops refuse to serve foreigners, and small hotels prohibit foreigners from staying. Unreasonable treatment of foreigners is no longer a “secret” in the Japanese workplace. Even if they do well, it is difficult for them to get into important positions.
In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed serious concern about the lack of specific anti-discrimination laws in Japan and the problem of racial discrimination in Japanese society. In 2016, the committee once again pointed out that Japan has a serious problem of racial discrimination: “Since 2003, there have been more than 360 racist demonstrations and speeches in Japan. Some far-right groups and individuals spread hatred through newspapers, the Internet, TV, and other media. Speeches, promotion of racial superiority … wanton demeaning, harassment and provocation of foreigners … but the Japanese authorities did not punish their behavior accordingly, which made the problem worse.”