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Memorial service held on birthday of Sri Lankan who died at Japan immigration center

Wishma Sandamali's younger sister Poornima prays before Wishma's ashes and a dictionary that belonged to her, at Myotsuji Temple in Aisai, Aichi Prefecture on Dec. 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Hiroaki Wada)

AISAI, Aichi -- A memorial service commemorating Wishma Sandamali, a Sri Lankan woman who died in March aged 33 while in detention at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau, was held on her birthday on Dec. 5 at a temple in this central Japan city.

    The service was held at Myotsuji Temple in Aisai, Aichi Prefecture, where Wishma's remains are being kept. Wishma's 27-year-old sister Poornima attended the service, and commented, "If she were alive, today would have been a happy and enjoyable day." Crying time to time, she said, "I'd like for something like this to never happen again."

    Wishma was put in detention at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in August 2020 after losing her residency status. Her health began deteriorating in mid-January 2021, but her requests to be granted temporary release from detention and get an intravenous drip went unheeded. She died at a hospital in the city of Nagoya on March 6. In August this year, the Immigration Services Agency of Japan's final investigative report on Wishma's death noted that the detention center's medical system was insufficient, but claimed that the specific course of events leading to her death could not be determined.

    On Dec. 5, in addition to Wishma's sister, Shoichi Ibusuki and Chie Komai, lawyers representing the bereaved family, joined the gathering at the temple, which has links with Sri Lanka. They offered prayers before her ashes and an English-Sinhalese dictionary which Wishma had apparently treasured and was sent to Japan by her family in Sri Lanka.

    Yoshiko Hojo, right, of Myotsuji Temple, shows a photo book of images of memorial services related to Wishma Sandamali to Wishma's younger sister Poornima, left, at Myotsuji Temple in Aisai, Aichi Prefecture on Dec. 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Hiroaki Wada)

    Poornima patted the container holding her sister's ashes and said, "Why did she have to be put in such a small box? Was this her fate? I said to her inside my heart that I wanted to be with her a little longer."

    The memorial service was held in both Japanese and Sri Lankan-style, and an interpreter was also present. In her speech addressing the attendants, Poornima said, "Although my sister's flesh is no more, her spirit will always be with us. I hope such sad events will not occur to her when she's reincarnated." She also thanked supporters, saying, "I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart for worrying about us and being with us." She also said "thank you" in Japanese and bowed her head.

    Yoshiko Hojo, 68, of Myotsuji Temple, gave Poornima a collection of photos including ones of memorial services related to Wishma. After Hojo told Poornima, "Please tell your mother that many people have visited to mourn your sister," she smiled and said, "I'll take good care of this," while clutching the photo book to her chest.

    Akemi Mano, 67, a singer-songwriter living in the city of Tsushima, Aichi Prefecture, who was close to Wishma and had visited her at the immigration facility before her death, lamented her loss, saying, "If she were alive, we could have had fun celebrating her birthday at my house." She added, "Hearing the Sri Lankan sutras, I felt as if I was able to be connected with Wishma."

    (Japanese original by Hiroaki Wada, Digital News Center)

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