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Friday’s apparent suicide of an Indian man held at the East Japan Immigration Control Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, has prompted dozens of detainees at the facility to stage a hunger strike in protest, according to volunteers supporting the detainees.
According to Mitsuru Miyasako, director of the Provisional Release Association in Japan, about 130 detainees had participated in the protest as of Tuesday.
He said he obtained the information from detainees he interviewed at the center.
“The suicide of the Indian man made their anger explode,” Miyasako told The Japan Times by phone on Tuesday.
Meanwhile Kyodo News put the number of protesters at “more than 40,” quoting an anonymous supporter who has reportedly been in contact with some of the detainees at the center.
Currently about 330 foreign nationals are detained at the Ushiku facility, according to the center.
Detention center spokesman Daisuke Akinaga confirmed by telephone later in the day that some of the detainees have refused to eat any of their three daily meals since Sunday morning. He declined to comment on the number of those staging the hunger protest.
Akinaga admitted that the death of the Indian man may have triggered the protest.
“It’s not the first such protest … but we’ve been trying to convince the detainees to stop the hunger strike because it could damage their health,” Akinaga said.
The Indian man in his 30s was reportedly found Friday in a shower room with a towel wrapped around his neck, after learning the day before that authorities had turned down his request for an early provisional release.
The man was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to media reports.
Kimiko Tanaka, a Tsukuba-based human rights activist who has been supporting detainees since 1995, told The Japan Times on Tuesday that, according to another detainee, the Indian man was devastated by a decision from authorities to turn down his request for an earlier provisional release. This meant he would have been kept at the center for at least two or three more months, she said.
According to Miyasako, the man was taking antidepressants to deal with stress. He also said the man had been held at the Ushiku center for about a year.
Miyasako said that protesters have asked for their detention period to be shortened and their treatment to be improved.
“People who are held in a small room for over six months may develop Ganser syndrome, which is a form of depressive disorder accompanied by insomnia, as well as loss of appetite, dizziness and headaches,” Miyasako said.
Miyasako said detainees have been faced with stricter detention enforcement in recent years and fewer are granted provisional release, as many detainees awaiting deportation seek asylum to avoid leaving the country and then leave the center on provisional release.
The number of detainees on provisional release stood at 3,555 in 2016 across Japan, according to the Justice Ministry.
Akinaga said the Ushiku facility houses people served with deportation orders. They are detained there until deportation.
Akinaga said that those who apply for refugee status in Japan usually end up detained in the facility for a longer period, awaiting the Justice Ministry’s asylum decision.
In 2017, a Vietnamese man in his 40s held at the Ushiku facility died after falling unconscious. His supporters have claimed the immigration center refused to give him adequate medical treatment.