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Four foreign nationals have sued the Osaka immigration bureau over the pain they say they suffered in 2018 for being locked up with 13 other detainees in a small room at its facility despite a major earthquake in the region, their lawyer said Friday.

In the suit filed with the Osaka District Court, the four from Nigeria, Pakistan and Peru are demanding some ¥3 million in total from the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau after being confined for more than 24 hours in a 20-square-meter room intended to house up to six people, according to the lawyer.

While locked up from June 17, 2018, electricity was cut, and they were not given drinking water. They were not let out when a magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit Osaka and other parts of western Japan the following morning, according to the complaint.

The development comes as the treatment of detainees at immigration facilities has drawn greater scrutiny following the March death of Sri Lankan woman Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali while being held at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau.

Wishma had complained of stomach pain and other symptoms from January. Her death, which activists blamed on a failure to provide appropriate medical attention, led to the government’s decision earlier this month to withdraw a bill revising rules on the asylum system and how to handle foreign nationals facing deportation.

The four male plaintiffs were held at the Osaka bureau for overstaying their visas and were all granted provisional releases by May 2020.

According to the complaint, the 17 detainees gathered in the small room with three bunk beds around 11 a.m. on June 17, 2018, to discuss how they felt medical treatment at the facility could be improved.

The Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau in the city of Osaka | KYODO
The Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau in the city of Osaka | KYODO

About 30 minutes later, when time allowed for visiting other detainees’ rooms was up, they were told to return to their rooms but refused, and as a result, all 17 were locked in from the outside. The door remained locked until after noon the following day.

While confined in the room, they could not use air conditioning despite insufficient ventilation. They claim the treatment constituted an illegal exercise of public power, according to the complaint.

A Nigerian man, 56, one of the plaintiffs, who has a hernia, said he asked for medication but was denied and spent a stressful night without enough space to lie down.

Another plaintiff, a 51-year-old Pakistani man, said, “It was cruel treatment as we were treated like prisoners. I want the immigration authority to respect human rights and review its response.”

Ikuya Nakao, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the treatment by the bureau was “punitive and inconceivable.”

The Osaka immigration bureau said it could not comment on the lawsuit as it had yet to receive the complaint. In 2018, an official said the detainees were locked up “to maintain order” as they ranted and banged on the door.

The official at the time said the bureau did not open the door even after the earthquake as it judged the quake not to have harmed the detainees.

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