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Japan: UN expert urges better protection for migrants and their families

TOKYO (31 March 2010) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants, Jorge A. Bustamante, called on the Japanese government to increase the protection of migrants, both regular and irregular, and their families.

“They still face a range of challenges,” he said at the end of a nine-day visit to Japan*, “including racism and discrimination, exploitation, a tendency by the judiciary and police to ignore their rights, and the overall lack of a comprehensive immigration policy that incorporates human rights protection.”

Mr. Bustamante praised some of the measures taken by the government to alleviate the impact of the economic crisis on migrants and their children. However, he stressed that “Japan has yet to adopt a comprehensive immigration policy that provides for the protection of migrants’ rights,” 20 years after it started receiving migrant workers.

Beyond managing the entry and stay of migrants, “Japan should establish institutionalized programmes designed to create the necessary conditions for the integration of migrants into Japanese society and the respect of their rights, including to work, health, housing and education, without discrimination,” he said.

“Racism and discrimination based on nationality are still too common in Japan, including in the workplace, in schools, in health care establishments and housing.” In his view, the current general provisions are not effective in protecting foreign residents from discrimination based on race and nationality.

Mr. Bustamante expressed his concerns about the generalized policy of detaining irregular migrants, including asylum seekers, parents and children themselves, for prolonged periods, – in some cases as long as three years – which amounts to “de facto indefinite detention.”

“Clear criteria should be established in order to limit detention to the cases where it is strictly necessary, avoiding detaining persons such as those who are ill or who are the parents of minor children,” the human rights expert said. “A maximum period of detention pending deportation should be set, after which foreigners should be released.”

The Special Rapporteur also drew attention to the high incidence of domestic violence against migrant women and their children. “Appropriate policies to protect and assist single mothers and their children who find themselves in this extremely vulnerable situation are lacking and should be adopted and implemented urgently.”

Noting that a considerable number of migrant children in Japan do not attend school, Mr. Bustamante said that “governmental efforts should be increased to facilitate that foreign children study either in Japanese or foreign schools, and learn Japanese.”

During his mission, the UN independent expert heard many cases where parents of children born in Japan or who have lived there for up to 15 years have been recently deported or detained, resulting in the children being separated from their parents because of their irregular residence status. “In accordance with the principle of the best interest of the child, families should not be separated,” he said.

Mr. Bustamante also heard repeated complaints of open discrimination against migrant workers by their private employers with regard to remuneration, promotion opportunities, access to health care for accidents in the workplace, and threats of unfair dismissal. In this regard, he urged the Japanese authorities to give special attention “to monitoring the conditions under which private companies employ migrant workers.”

Later this year, the Special Rapporteur will present to the UN Human Rights Council a complete report on his visit, with his observations and recommendations.

Jorge A. Bustamante (Mexico), an expert in the field of international migrations, was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants by the former Commission on Human Rights in 2005. His mandate was extended by the Human Rights Council in 2008 to help states and others, promote and protect the human rights of migrants. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. He covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

(*) See the Special Rapporteur’s end of mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9950&LangID=E