Sisters question ‘final’ report on death

The bereaved family of Sri Lankan detainee Wishma Sandamali, who died at a Japanese immigration facility, blasted the final report on her death, released by Japan’s Immigration Services Agency on August 10, saying, “We can’t trust it.” 

Wishma Sandamali, 33, died at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in March. The cause of her death has not been released.

“Even before the cause of my elder sister’s death has been revealed, how could this report be final?” Wishma’s younger sister Wayomi, 28, said during a news conference on August 10 in Japan.

According to Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer for the family, an Immigration official brought the final report to his office and Wayomi received it.

Even though Wishma fell from her bed, Immigration officials let her remain on the floor and ignored her for nearly three hours, the report states.

“Were the officials hired to do such a dirty thing? It must be bullying,” Wayomi said. “This was not the first case. How many people need to die for Immigration offices to change their medical care system? Who will take responsibility for their deaths?”

The bereaved family asked the Immigration office to release all the recorded video footage of Wishma taken at the facility where she was detained in the two weeks prior to her death.

The Immigration office said that in the coming days it will show the family members about two hours of the footage that has been edited.

“Even if it will take a lot of time, we will watch everything and so we want them to release all the footage,” her younger sister Poornima, 27, said.

The sisters said that without help from the Japanese public even the report would have not been released. They said they appreciated the support and asked for the public’s continued cooperation to help uncover the truth behind Wishma’s death.

The final report admitted that Wishma died of an illness, but also said, “Multiple factors might have affected her death,” and that it was difficult to determine which one was the cause.

The report also said that in hindsight it was “desirable” for Wishma to have been given another medical test since a urine test she had taken in mid-February had shown signs that she had a lack of nutrition and renal dysfunction.

But it also said that the facility’s medical care system had limitations such as an absence of full-time doctors.

According to the report, in late February, Wishma, whose health condition had deteriorated, repeatedly asked Immigration officials to let her see doctors at an outside hospital, but her requests were not reported to their superiors or doctors.

The report admitted that the local Immigration office did not have an adequate reporting system and that its medical care service was not fully available on holidays.

“The Immigration office shifted responsibility to the local bureau’s medical care system and its officers’ morality,” Ibusuki said. “It is trying to avoid liability and close this case with light punishments.”

“The Immigration office itself investigated the case and released the report, so I don’t know how meaningful it is,” he said. “The related documents should be submitted, and the case should be scrutinized at the Diet based on lawmakers’ investigation rights.”

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan conducts an internal investigation in cases where a detainee dies at an Immigration facility.

A senior official said that they assess whether to make a case public “based on the importance of the case in question.”

Since 2007, 16 detainees, excluding Wishma, have died at Immigration facilities across Japan.

In four cases, the investigation results were opened to the public.

In June 2019, a detainee in his 40s from Nigeria starved to death during a hunger strike. In March 2017, a detainee in his 40s from Vietnam who complained about headaches died of subarachnoid hemorrhage. 

(The Asahi Shimbun)


Japanese Opposition demands Parliamentary hearing

Four major Opposition parties in Japan, the Constitutional Democratic Party, the Democratic Party for the People, the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, demanded that the case of the death of Wishma Sandamali be brought before the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues, the national NHK broadcaster reported.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa apologised for the inaction of the Immigration centre staff in the city of Nagoya, which resulted in Wishma’s death in March. The Minister promised to take measures to reform the work of Immigration centres.

Wishma’s death in a temporary detention centre for immigrants, where she was placed after it was revealed that she was in Japan on an expired student visa, caused a wave of criticism both domestically and abroad. Human rights activists insist that the victim was denied the necessary medical assistance.

During the investigation, it turned out that the employees of the centre neglected their duties and in particular, they did not notify the management about Wishma’s requests for a medical examination. In addition, on the day of her death, an ambulance was not called for her.

After the incident, several protests against the Immigration policy took place across the country.

As a result of growing discontent, in May, the Japanese authorities decided to withdraw a bill to amend the Immigration law stipulating that the authorities could forcibly deport those who had been denied refugee status three times.

Japan is the country with one of the lowest percentages of refugee status permits. Last year, according to the Immigration Service, 47 out of almost 4,000 applications were approved, and in 2019, 44 out of 10,400.

(Sputnik News Service)


Report on death of detainee casts doubt on respect for human rights

A government agency report on the situation surrounding the questionable death of a Sri Lankan detainee shows a poor commitment to basic human rights principles among Japanese Immigration Control officials.

The lives and human rights of all people in Japan, regardless of their nationalities and even if they are not legal residents of the country, should be respected and protected.

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan on August 10 released its final report on an investigation into the events leading to the death of Wishma Sandamali, who died of an illness at an Immigration facility in Nagoya in March.

Before any discussion on the report’s content, it should be pointed out that the probe was conducted under the initiative of officials at the agency even though independent experts were invited to become involved after a while.

The case should have been rigorously scrutinized by a fully independent panel of experts. This fact alone indicates the agency was not sufficiently aware of the seriousness of what occurred.

Still, the report paints a grim picture of what happened to Sandamali, describing how the detainee’s claim that her health was poor was ignored as officials acted on the assumption that she should be kept in detention. This attitude led to the worst consequence.

The document also points out a slew of problems with Japan’s system to deal with cases of illegal residency, including poor health care services for detainees, the agency’s lack of ability to communicate effectively with them and inadequate cooperation among different departments within the agency.

What is particularly distressing is how front-line officers treated her. They thought she was exaggerating her ill health as a ruse to obtain provisional release status and jeered her complaints, according to the report. It is hardly surprising that the report calls for a radical change in the mindset of all officials at the top of a list of improvement measures.

The report includes many other lessons that should be taken seriously.

Sandamali was detained when she turned herself in to a police station, saying that she had been physically abused by the man she was living with. But Immigration officials failed to follow the internal rule that they should interview any possible victim of domestic violence to ascertain the facts.

There is a system for monitoring conditions at detention centres by independent experts, but it did not work, either. Sandamali wrote a letter seeking relief to a monitoring committee comprising mainly academic experts, but her letter was left unread for more than five weeks and was opened only after her death.

The committee is meaningless if such a call for help from a detainee is ignored. The members of the panel should take the malfunctioning of the system as their own problem and make a fundamental review of how it is operated as well as their relationship with the agency.

The agency has decided to show the detention facility’s video recording of her condition before her death to her bereft family. The agency initially refused to do so, citing “security reasons.” It needs to make serious efforts to change its culture of secrecy, which is totally unacceptable to the public.

Shoko Sasaki, who heads the agency, acknowledged at a news conference that the death at the detention facility reflects serious problems with the nation’s “immigration control administration” as a whole that transcend the Nagoya facility.

Public distrust of the Immigration control system forced the Government and the ruling coalition to abandon plans to enact a Bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, which would have made it easier to deport failed applicants for refugee status during this year’s regular Diet session.

To regain public trust of the system, the Government needs to start immediately working on new rules focused on protecting the human rights of illegal immigrants and detainees.

(Editorial, The Asahi Shimbun, August 11, 2021)


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