Detention center staff fail to aid dying asylum seeker: NGO

by Harumi Ozawa

AFP-JIJI

A Myanmar asylum seeker collapsed and died after staff at a Japanese immigration center refused other detainees’ requests to summon a doctor, allegedly because he was on his lunch break, a pressure group has said.

Anwar Hussin, 57, a member of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group, fell ill shortly after being detained Oct. 9, according to the People’s Forum on Burma, a Japan-based nongovernmental organization headed by a lawyer Shogo Watanabe. Myanmar was previously known as Burma.

Citing the victim’s cousin, the group said he had been complaining of a headache all morning and fell unconscious as he began eating lunch in his cell. Seven fellow detainees of different nationalities called for help because he was vomiting and having spasms, the NGO said last week.

Workers at the unidentified detention center rejected their requests for a doctor by saying Anwar Hussin was just “having a seizure” and that the duty medic was on lunch break, the group said, citing detainees who had spoken to the dead man’s cousin.

A doctor was summoned 51 minutes after he collapsed, according to a timeline given to his cousin by the center. Staff made an emergency call four minutes after the doctor arrived — and some 55 minutes after being made aware of the problem — the timeline showed.

Anwar Hussin died in hospital Oct. 14, the group said.

A spokeswoman for the Tokyo Immigration Bureau said a man in his 50s from Myanmar died of a stroke after collapsing in the detention center, confirming the dates cited by the group. But she declined to confirm or deny the NGO’s claims on how long it took for the doctor to be called.

“We refrain from disclosing details because it concerns private matters. We are aware that some people have complained the man was neglected for some time,” but the bureau believes staff handled the case appropriately, said the spokeswoman.

She further said officials had explained the situation to the man’s surviving family in Japan. But the NGO, which supports the democratization of Myanmar and aids refugees from the country when they arrive in Japan, disputes this.

“The bureau did not inform the family of (Anwar Hussin’s) hospitalization. It was learned from other detainees,” said a spokeswoman for the group.

Immigration officials gave few details until two days after his death, she said, and then only because a cousin repeatedly pressed them.

The Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, face travel restrictions, forced labor and limited access to health care and education in Myanmar, rights groups say. Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Muslim Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

Anwar Hussin came to Japan in 2006 and made two applications for asylum, both of which were rejected, according to the group, which said he was waiting for the result of his second appeal when he was detained this month.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the NGO’s claims over Anwar Hussin’s death. But Watanabe, the lawyer who leads the NGO, said detention centers are frequently slower than they should be in emergency medical situations.

“This is the result when the country has failed to protect people who need to be protected,” he said in an interview.

Hiroka Shoji of Amnesty International Japan said it was worrying that immigration workers apparently had power of veto over whether a sick detainee should see a doctor.

Human rights activists, lawyers and migrant communities in Japan have complained for years about harsh treatment by immigration officials and appalling conditions at detention centers.

In 2010, a Ghanaian asylum seeker died while he was being restrained allegedly by up to 10 immigration officials as they tried to deport him. Rights activists claim the man was gagged with a towel.

  • Poe Lou Chan

    Japan, could you try and not live up to these stereotypes much of the world has about you?

  • Christopher-trier

    The question is “what don’t we know”? This happens a lot with China, too. People only see a small part of the story and rush to condemn the country. The man who died had two failed bids for asylum. It is not unreasonable to believe that he was trying to find any reason not to be deported, including demanding to see the doctor for every headache, stomach ache or stubbed toe. It’s a common tactic and one that grows tiresome for those who have to deal with it.