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Editorial: Report fails to tackle inhumanity underlying Japan's immigration detentions

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan has released an investigative report on the death of Sri Lankan national Wishma Sandamali at the detention center in Nagoya in March this year.

    Wishma came to Japan as a student but overstayed her visa. She was taken into custody and held at the detention center, and was given a deportation order. She died of an illness at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau a little more than six months into her detention, aged 33.

    What the report has revealed is that, though the detention center staff knew Wishma's health was worsening by the day, they did not take the steps needed to help her. There's no denying that the staff disregarded a human life.

    About half a month before she died, Wishma did a urine test. The results suggested something was very wrong, and she also became unable to command her own body properly. But no medical specialist was summoned to examine her.

    Wishma requested a temporary release from the detention center, but most of the staff believed she was faking her symptoms to get out. Some of them mocked her inability to swallow food and drink.

    When Wishma was first detained, she said that the man she was living with had been abusive. A threatening letter addressed to her was also delivered to the detention center, but the center made no move to investigate the situation.

    She was treated inhumanely, consistently and continually, but we can see no hint in the report that this fact has been accepted with the gravity it deserves. Rather, the report concluded that the problem lied within the center's organizational system including failure to share information, low staffing, and insufficient employee education. That Wishma could not get the treatment she needed to stay alive was attributed to a systematic limitation on having a regular doctor on site.

    The report also states that the refusal to give her a temporary pass out of detention could not be called unjustifiable, as releasing her would have made Wishma harder to deport.

    Since 2007, 17 people have died in Japan's immigration detention centers, including Wishma. If no measures based on a thorough probe of the situation are taken to prevent more deaths, then we risk yet more pointless tragedies like Wishma's.

    Underlying the problem is an immigration authority that obstinately refuses to recognize anyone staying in Japan without a proper visa status. The single-minded drive to expunge all undocumented stayers from Japanese society appears to us to be manifesting in the immigration agency's treatment of detainees.

    Detention strips away the right to live freely, and should be used in only extremely limited circumstances. The current situation, where people can be held for an unlimited time based solely on the judgement of the immigration agency, must be reformed immediately.

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