Japanese authorities have denied Nigerian refugee Elizabeth Aruoriwo Obueza her request for asylum and continued to hold her in solitary confinement at a government detention center in Tokyo. Reuters reports that Obueza has been detained for two weeks, spending 22 hours every day in solitary confinement after authorities dismissed her claim that she needed to stay in Japan to avoid religious persecution back in Nigeria. Obueza’s lawyers say she is appealing the ruling.
The 48-year-old fled Nigeria in 1991 to escape female genital mutilation. She first applied for asylum in 2011, but her request was rejected and she was subsequently detained for 10 months. While in detention, Obueza managed to rally other detainees to petition immigration authorities for improved treatment of asylum seekers and better medical care.
During the past few years, Obueza has continually used her voice and platform to campaign for the fair treatment of immigrants held in several Japanese detention centers. She has also reportedly spoken up for the nearly 4,700 detainees who have been “provisionally released,” a controversial condition which allows them out of prison but prevents them from working and traveling freely.
Part of Obueza’s outreach efforts include visits to immigration detention centers across Japan and liaising with lawyers and other human rights activists to provide asylum seekers with the help and legal assistance they need to get them out of detention.
Activists in Japan have called for Obueza’s immediate release and rejected the government’s decision to keep a non-violent detainee in solitary confinement. In fact, solitary confinement is usually reserved for detainees who are violent or severely ill.
Mitsuru Miyasako, a humans rights activist, said, “Locking someone up alone in a tiny room is to ruin them psychologically,” while fellow activist and immigration lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki added, “Elizabeth was targeted and detained for being an activist.”
Japan has a reputation for its stringent and sometimes ruthless immigration clause that appear to be even more unforgiving to people of color. Many see Obueza’s arrest as part of a wider campaign by the Japanese government to expel foreigners from the country.
Last year, the Japanese Justice Ministry announced that it would intensify efforts to significantly reduce the nearly 60,000 foreigners living in the country without visas. In 2015, Japan rejected 99 percent of asylum requests, accepting only 27 refugees.