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Japanese lawmakers describe immigration bureau's mistreatment of Sri Lankan woman who died

Wishma Sandamali, who died in March 2021 while detained at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau, is seen in this photo provided by her family.

TOKYO -- Opposition lawmakers met on Jan. 21 to report the Japanese immigration's mistreatment of a Sri Lankan woman who died at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in March 2021 after they viewed partial security footage of her at the detention facility, with one legislator describing how the bureau staff responded to the woman who repeatedly complained of not feeling well as "chilling."

    The report was shared in the meeting held by six lawmakers from both houses of the Diet at the House of Councillors members' office building in Tokyo. The roughly six-and-a-half-hour footage, which recorded the late Wishma Sandamali's detention room at the Nagoya immigration bureau, was released to the directors and members of the Judicial Affairs Committee at both lower and upper chambers on Dec. 24 and Dec. 27, 2021, respectively. The original footage covers about two weeks until Sandamali's death and is about 295 hours long in total, but the Immigration Services Agency has edited it, meaning that only 2% of the entire footage was released to the lawmakers.

    House of Representatives member Takeshi Shina from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) described what was in the footage during the meeting, saying, "There's a scene where Ms. Wishma calls out to a (detention facility) worker. She says, 'Hello, I'm bleeding from the mouth and nose,' but it took a while for someone to show up. And even after they come to her, they tell her to 'be patient until the morning' and had Ms. Wishma sit on a corner of the bed, putting a futon on her back to make sure she doesn't collapse before they walk away." Shina added, "What's in the video and the final report (by the agency in August 2021) are inconsistent."

    Independent lower house member Ryuichi Yoneyama, who is a physician himself, said, "While the bureau staff didn't appear to intentionally cause her harm, they kept telling Ms. Wishma, who was obviously ill, that 'it's all right.' Immigration staff who don't have knowledge about medical or nursing care kept saying that. The Nagoya immigration at the time reportedly had a physician available twice a week for two hours each, and from my experience as a part-time physician at a nursing home, I can tell that a doctor sometimes sees 100-200 patients with that schedule. But even so, a doctor should be able to spot if something is wrong." Yoneyama continued, "It's obvious for anyone with medical expertise that she wasn't faking her illness, and leaving someone who is complaining about health issues as much as she did unattended is unthinkable at hospitals or nursing homes."

    CDP lower house legislator Katsuhiko Yamada told the meeting, "Even though Ms. Wishma repeatedly said, 'I want to go to a hospital. I want IV drips,' the immigration staff only told her, 'We don't have the authority. We'll let our boss know.' Would they have responded the same if it was someone important to them? It was chilling."

    Yamada also reported that a Nepali man detained at the Omura Immigration Center in his constituency of the Nagasaki Prefecture city of Omura is currently in an at-risk condition, saying, "I fear we could see Ms. Wishma's case repeated. The immigration agency has said it would change the staff's mentality, but that alone won't solve the problems."

    CDP upper house member Yuichi Mayama said, "At first, Ms. Wishma could be seen talking to the workers, but she becomes unresponsive toward the end (of the video) just lying on the bed. And the workers just stand there doing nothing but watch someone who might die. I thought it was indirectly murdering her by leaving her unattended." He pointed out that, from his experience as a news anchor, materials "edited by the authorities don't contain what they don't want to show. I believe what we want to see is still hidden."

    (Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Digital News Center)

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