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Statements Special Procedures

UN migrants rights expert urges Japan to increase protection of migrants

31 March 2010

31 March 2010

TOKYO - The UN expert on migrants’ human rights on Wednesday praised Japan for some of the measures it has taken to alleviate the impact of the economic crisis on migrants, but, based on information provided by civil society, he noted that it is still facing a range of challenges, 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.

UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Jorge Bustamante, was speaking at the end of a nine-day visit to Japan, conducted at the invitation of the Government in order to observe and report on the human rights situation of migrants in the country.

In Tokyo, Nagoya, Toyota and Hamamatsu, the Special Rapporteur met with Ministers, officials of central and local governments, international organizations, lawyers, school teachers, academics, members of civil society organizations, as well as migrant women and men and their children. He also visited the East Japan Detention Center, foreign schools and met with migrants’ associations. The Special Rapporteur expressed appreciation to the Government for its cooperation as well as to various organizations that provided support for his mission, in particular the International Organization for Migration and civil society.

The Special Rapporteur noted the Government’s efforts to address the seriousness of some of the human rights problems faced by migrant workers, in particular in the aftermath of the economic crisis. He cited, as positive examples, the launch of an emergency programme to teach the Japanese language to those migrant children who had to leave foreign private schools to attend Japanese free public schools as a result of the financial crisis, and the provision of financial support to some foreign schools recognized by the local Governments, saying these were “noteworthy measures to work towards realizing the right to education for migrant children.”

Mr. Bustamante said he had also learnt of some interesting programmes at the local level: these included placing interpreters subsidized by the national public employment agencies, and establishing funds (for example in Aichi prefecture) to which companies contribute in order to pay for Japanese lessons for their migrant workers and their children. The creation of the Council of Cities with High Concentration of Foreign Residents, a forum where 27 municipalities gather to discuss how to better address the needs of migrants, is also a positive initiative, he said.

Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur said, many challenges still need to be addressed by the Government in order to protect the human rights of migrants and their children. He listed some of the most important, along with some preliminary recommendations on how to improve the situation:

  • While Japan started receiving migrant workers 20 years ago, it has yet to adopt a comprehensive immigration policy that provides for the protection of migrants’rights. A clear and comprehensive immigration policy should, therefore, be adopted, which would go beyond managing the entry and stay of migrants. It 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. In this context, the ad hoc provisional measures recently adopted by the Government should be transformed into long-term policies.
  • Racism and discrimination based on nationality are still too common in Japan, including in the workplace, in schools, in health care establishments and housing. As recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Japan should adopt specific legislation on the prevention and elimination of racial discrimination, since the current general provisions included in the Constitution and existing laws are not effective in protecting foreign residents from discrimination based on race and nationality.
  • The industrial trainees and technical interns programme often fuels demand for exploitative cheap labour under conditions that constitute violations of the right to physical and mental health, physical integrity, freedom of expression and movement of foreign trainees and interns, and that in some cases may well amount to slavery. This program should be discontinued and replaced by an employment programme.
  • The Special Rapporteur heard recurring complaints about the fact that the judiciary does not recognize the rights of migrants as spelled out in national legislation but instead favours Japanese nationals. The Special Rapporteur was also informed by some migrants that the police in many instances refuse to address complaints submitted by migrants or that relate to conflicts between migrants, including complaints by foreign women on domestic violence. According to a number of migrants, urgent measures should be taken within the judiciary and law enforcement agencies to guarantee the effective implementation of the rights of foreigners without discrimination.
  • The policy of detention of irregular migrants raises a number of concerns, in particular in relation to the generalized policy of detaining irregular migrants, including asylum seekers, parents and children themselves, for prolonged periods, -- in some cases as long as two or 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. Importantly, a maximum period of detention pending deportation should be set, after which foreigners should be released. Moreover, there are serious concerns with regard to appropriate health care not being provided to migrants in detention centres, and the lack of effective mechanisms to monitor human rights violations occurring in detention centres, and to examine complaints.
  • The Special Rapporteur said he is concerned by the high incidence of domestic violence against migrant women and frequently against their children as well. He is particularly concerned by the fact that foreign women depend on their husbands for the renewal of their residence permits, even when they are victims of domestic violence, and that courts decide on children’s custody on the basis of the existence of these permits. 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.
  • A considerable number of migrant children in Japan do not attend school. Governmental efforts should be increased to facilitate that foreign children study either in Japanese or foreign schools, and learn Japanese. The Special Rapporteur 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 simply because of their irregular residence status. In accordance with the principle of the best interest of the child, families should not be separated.
  • The Special Rapporteur heard repeated complaints in relation to 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 many cases, migrant workers, both regular and irregular, informed that they are employed under precarious and discriminatory conditions, with temporary contracts that do not entitle them to access social security services. Therefore, special attention should be given to monitoring the conditions under which private companies employ migrant workers.

The report of the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Japan will be submitted to the United Nations' Human Rights Council later in the year.