• Jiji, Kyodo

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The Immigration Services Agency admitted medical care system flaws Tuesday in a report into the death of a Sri Lankan woman detained at an immigration facility, and reprimanded the center’s top officials and supervisors.

The report also pointed out that repeated requests for medical care from the woman, Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, had not reached senior officials of the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau. She died at the age of 33 at the facility in March.

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 deeply enough over how lonely, anxious and hopeless she must have felt as her health deteriorated,” Kamikawa said at a news conference.

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

The agency announced punishments of officials of the immigration facility, citing their failure to put in place and operate a system necessary for executing their duties. Taketoshi Sano, chief of the facility, and Shinichi Watanabe, then deputy head, were admonished, while two senior officials were reprimanded.

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.

The report noted that a part-time doctor was deployed to the facility in Nagoya only twice a week on weekdays, for two hours each time.

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.

Her requests for hospital treatment, which needed to be approved by the facility chief to be realized, ended up not being heard by any of senior officials as detention officers and other staff members with whom Wishma had contact concluded that there was no need for her to see a doctor, the report said.

Many detention officers suspected that Wishma had exaggerated her symptoms in hopes of getting released temporarily, the report showed.

It also found that a detention officer made fun of her when she was unable to swallow and spilled her drink out of her nose.

There is a possibility that Wishma had been subjected to violence by her Sri Lankan boyfriend before being detained. But immigration authorities did not conduct necessary hearings on the matter as required under internal rules, the report said.

Family and supporters of Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali head to the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Aichi Prefecture on May 17. | KYODO
Family and supporters of Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali head to the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Aichi Prefecture on May 17. | KYODO

In order to prevent similar cases from happening in the future, the report presented a plan to draw up new operational guidelines on the temporary release of ill people at detention facilities and called on an expert panel to devise ways to strengthen medical care systems at such facilities.

The report also noted that the Immigration Services Agency will newly set up an information counter to allow those supporting detainees to provide information about illegal or inappropriate behavior by immigration officers. The agency will also establish a new division responsible for inspecting and directing immigration officers.

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.

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