Another Suicide Brings Japan's Notorious Detention Centers Into Focus

Since 2006, at least 14 people have died in Japanese immigration detention centers across the country.

An Indian man apparently committed suicide at a Japanese immigration detention center, raising renewed concerns over conditions in the country’s detention facilities.

This death took the toll in Japan’s immigration detention system to 14 since 2006 and once again brought the centers under the spotlight. In the past, the system in the country had been widely criticized over flimsy medical standards and poor treatment of detainees.

The guards at the facility found the man, who was in his 30s, in a shower room with a towel wrapped around his neck, the East Japan Immigration Center said in a statement.

The victim wasn’t breathing when he was discovered and CPR was performed. But he was declared dead after being taken to a hospital.

Although the cause of death hasn’t been explicitly revealed, it is thought to be suicide, according to the center’s spokesman, Daisuke Akinaga, who refused to name the deceased.

Kimiko Tanaka, an activist who works with detainees at the center, said the victim was detained in Japan for around 10 months and recently denied release. Akinaga stayed tight-lipped on the matter of man’s detention history too.

The country’s immigration detention facilities are under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, which said 17 centers held 1,317 people as of last week.

Last year, a Vietnamese man named Nguyen, held in a solitary cell at an immigration detention center in Tokyo, committed suicide. He was one of more than 11,000 refugees Japan took in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

His death sparked widespread criticism from activists, who claimed authorities had done nothing to improve conditions at the detention facilities. But it seems all that criticism fell onto deaf ears as the conditions at such centers are still apparently driving detainees to end their lives.

Although a Vietnamese community leader confirmed Nguyen’s cause of death as suicide, a spokesman for the East Japan Immigration Center declined to comment on it. This continued unwillingness of the Japanese government to talk about the causes of death of detainees suggests they might be trying to escape scrutiny and accountability.

According to activists and inmates, last year, about 20 men at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau went on a hunger strike to object to their repeated detention and what they called inhumane treatment.

At its peak, about 100 detainees, including asylum seekers and some inmates at an immigration facility in Nagoya, southwest of Tokyo, were reportedly on hunger strike.

However, after exhausting their physical limit, the protesters ended the strike in hope the immigration authorities would take notice of the matter, but to no avail.

It is common knowledge that mental health problems are prevalent among detainees held for periods ranging from months to years, who gradually fall into depression.

According to an investigation last year, there weren’t enough medical facilities in Japan to cater to such severe cases of deteriorating mental health. A government official said the immigration bureau would look into increasing the medical staff, but the authorities reportedly failed to place a doctor on site around the clock.

Although life at detention facilities cannot be by any means normal, but it also doesn’t have to be so distressful that it drives detainees to choose death over life. Such cases of suicides are indicative of repeated display of negligence by the authorities despite activists and inmates protests.

Japan, which is known for its rich cultural beauty and commercial appeal, also prides itself on ethnic homogeneity. However, it needs to first acutely address such fundamental issues.

Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Yuya Shino/File Photo

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