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Japan immigration

Japan immigration center mistreated Sri Lankan before her death: probe

Wishma Sandamali's pleas for medical treatment were never reported to managers, agency finds

Wishma Sandamali's sisters hold a news conference at Japan's parliament on Aug. 10 after a report into the conditions at an immigration center leading up to her death.   © Kyodo

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's immigration agency said Tuesday its probe has found that an immigration center in central Japan mistreated a detained Sri Lankan woman who died in March, and reprimanded the facility's top officials and supervisors.

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan's final report on developments leading to the death of Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, 33, said the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Aichi Prefecture failed to provide appropriate medical care for her, though the probe could not determine the cause of her death.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa apologized for the Nagoya facility's treatment of Wishma that resulted in her death and pledged to reform the country's immigration services.

"I cannot grieve too deeply over how lonely, anxious and hopeless she must have felt as her health deteriorated," Kamikawa told a press conference.

Shoko Sasaki, head of the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, told a separate press conference: "The Nagoya bureau at the time lacked awareness of its responsibility to ensure the safety of people and respectfully engage with them."

Japan's Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa apologized for the Nagoya facility's treatment of Wishma that resulted in her death, August 10.   © Kyodo

The agency reprimanded the bureau's director and then deputy director as well as two supervisors overseeing the monitoring of detainees.

The agency had set up an investigation team and heard from third-party experts including medical professionals in examining the case of Wishma, who came to Japan in 2017 on a student visa and was taken to the facility in Nagoya in August 2020 after overstaying her visa.

She died on March 6 while in custody after complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms from mid-January. She had applied for but was refused provisional release for hospital treatment.

Medical personnel were not available on Saturdays, the day that she died, and staff at the facility did not make an emergency call, according to the report.

The probe has also found Wishma's pleas for medical treatment and examination by an outside doctor were never reported to managing staff, violating the facility's own rule.

It pointed out that omitting to report such detainee requests for medical treatment was commonplace at immigration facilities, a practice that needs to be rectified.

One immigration officer allegedly mocked Wishma when she was unable to swallow her drink, while others saw her complaints as exaggerated to secure the approval of her temporary release request, according to the probe report.

Wishma's family and opposition lawmakers had been demanding the disclosure of the security camera footage of her final days. The immigration agency is set to release the footage to her family.

Whether to release the footage of Wishma in detention was a major focus of debate in parliament, the ordinary session of which ended in June, as it deliberated on a bill to revise rules on how to handle foreigners facing deportation, including allowing those who have applied for refugee status more than twice to be deported.

The government withdrew the bill in May following protests over the death of Wishma.

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