Inmates on hunger strike in Japan immigration centre

TOKYO, May 20, 2010 (AFP) – Scores of foreigners in a Japanese immigration detention centre have been on hunger strike for more than a week, demanding to be released and protesting the mysterious death of an African deportee. Some 70 detainees — many of them Sri Lankans and Pakistanis — have refused food since May 10, also seeking to highlight suicides there by a Brazilian and a South Korean inmate, say their outside supporters.

The protest comes after UN rights envoy Jorge Bustamante in March raised concerns about Japan’s often years-long detentions of illegal migrants, including parents with children as well as rejected asylum seekers.

“Those in the centre suffer such mental stress from being confined for so long,” said Kimiko Tanaka, a member of a local rights group, about the East Japan Immigration Centre in Ushiku, northeast of Tokyo.

Japan keeps tight control on immigration and last year, despite generous overseas aid for refugees, granted political asylum to just 30 people.

Human rights activists, lawyers and foreign communities have complained for years about conditions at Ushiku and Japan’s two other such facilities, in the western prefecture of Osaka and in southwestern Nagasaki prefecture