THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
May 13, 2021 at 17:04 JST
Family members of a Sri Lankan woman who died at an immigration detention facility in March have arrived in Japan and want answers.
They plan to meet with immigration officials and ask them a tough question: “Why did the Japanese immigration authorities kill her?”
The death of Wishma Sandamali, 33, who was detained at a facility operated by the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in August 2020 for overstaying her visa, has sparked outrage among opposition lawmakers.
She became ill around mid-January this year and suffered from nausea, vomiting and a poor appetite. Her symptoms worsened and she lost about 20 kilograms and had difficulty walking. She died on March 6.
Two days before her death, a psychiatrist saw her and said that her emaciated condition would likely improve if the agency granted her provisional release. But apparently the release was not granted.
An interim report on the incident was released on April 9 by the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Services Agency of Japan.
But the report omitted the psychiatrist’s recommendation.
The Asahi Shimbun interviewed her two younger sisters, Wayomi, 28, and Poornima, 26, online on May 12.
They arrived in Japan on May 1 and have been quarantined at a hotel in Japan for two weeks.
They said the three sisters grew up very close. They lost their father nine years ago when Sandamali was a college student.
Her sisters still were younger than 20. Sandamali, while attending her university, taught English at an international school to help the family finances and did household chores. She took care of her sisters like she was their mother, the sisters said.
Sandamali sometimes taught English to poor children in her neighborhood, they said.
Wayomi said Sandamali wanted to understand other people’s situations and help them.
Sandamali watched the popular Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) TV drama “Oshin” and became familiarized with Japanese culture. Because Japan is a safe country, she decided to study in Japan, the sisters said.
In 2017, the family was pleased to learn that Sandamali was going to study in Japan, they said.
Two days before her departure to Japan, they took a family picture, in which the three sisters were smiling.
In October 2019, Wayomi received a message from Sandamali congratulating her on her wedding.
“I want to do something. What do you want?” Sandamali asked.
But Wayomi’s mobile phone was not working and she could not reply.
It was her last contact with Sandamali, she said.
“My older sister was ill, but I couldn’t do anything,” Wayomi cried.
Their mother became sickened after she learned about Sandamali’s death.
The mother asked, “Why did the immigration authorities kill my beloved daughter?” according to the sisters.
The sisters are expected to view Sandamali’s body and perform funeral rites after the two-week quarantine period is over.
Afterward, the sisters will meet with immigration officials and others.
The sisters said they want to ask the immigration officials and the justice minister, “Why did you do such an irresponsible thing?” and “Are you still hiding something?”
Under the current immigration law, a foreign national who applies for refugee status cannot be deported while the application is pending.
But in the latest government-drafted bill to revise the immigration law, a person can apply for refugee status only two time for the same reason.
The death of Sandamali has sparked mistrust in the agency among opposition lawmakers, who are demanding the truth and criticizing the bill, which they say gives more power to the agency.
(This article was written by Rei Kishitu, Haruka Ono and Chihiro Ara.)
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