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Late Sri Lankan's kin decry Japan Diet panel's passage of immigration law revisions

Wishma Sandamali's sisters Poornima, left, and Wayomi, center, answer reporters' questions after the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee passed a bill to revise Japan's immigration law, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on April 28, 2023. Poornima holds a portrait of her late sister. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Sisters of a Sri Lankan woman who died in a Japanese detention facility decried a Diet panel's passage of a controversial bill to revise the immigration law on April 28, saying it's wrong to approve the measure without probing their sibling's death.

    The sisters of Wishma Sandamali, who died at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau in 2021 at age 33, observed House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee deliberations on the bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. The bill would strengthen deportation powers for illegal overstayers, and has raised concerns that it could lead to the "exclusion" of foreign residents in Japan.

    Sitting in the committee room gallery, Wayomi, 30, and Poornima, 28, listened to an interpreter as they watched the debate with serious looks. Wayomi criticized the bill, which allows deportation even while someone is applying for refugee status, saying, "It disregards and disrespects the human rights of foreign nationals." If deportation is carried out, it could lead to foreign families being split between Japan and their home countries. "Please consider children. They mustn't be separated from their parents," she said.

    Wayomi still distrusts Japanese authorities over her sister's death. "Unless they investigate what happened to our sister, there's no way they could prevent a recurrence," she said.

    Lessons drawn from Wishma's tragic death are partially reflected in the bill. While Wishma complained of sickness and twice applied for provisional release from the immigration facility, her first plea was not granted, and she died while her second petition was still pending.

    In drawing up the bill, the provisional release review process was reviewed, and it was specified that "full attention will be paid to the detainee's health status by listening to doctors' opinions, among other means" in deciding whether to grant requests for temporary release for medical reasons.

    Justice Minister Ken Saito told the panel, "We'll tackle the issue with a resolve to prevent a recurrence at any cost."

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Oba and Akira Iida, Tokyo City News Department)

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