Lesson is lost in coverage of immigrant death

Since Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali’s death in a Nagoya detention center on March 6, the Japan Immigration Service Agency has come under heavy criticism for the way it allowed the 33-year-old Sri Lankan to perish in detention without medical attention and, therefore, had to reckon with its reputation for treating foreigners, especially non-white foreigners, as if they were potential criminals.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa apologized and pledged to reform the system that featured in Wishma’s death while promising to punish those responsible. In addition, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has since suspended its review of the immigration law, which many critics say would facilitate the deportation of asylum seekers.

For its part, the media followed the case in an outraged tone worthy of a story in which a young woman dies painfully and needlessly while in state custody, but coverage has focused on what happened to Wishma after she fell ill in January. .

There was only a cursory mention of how she was detained in the first place. The gist of Tokyo Shimbun reporter Isoko Mochizuki’s continued coverage of the story is that without understanding these circumstances, the real lesson the authorities must learn from his death will be lost. Immigration detention centers may begin to pay more attention to the health of their charges, but the wider problem of indefinite extrajudicial imprisonment of foreigners suspected of breaking the law remains.

As Mochizuki explains in a July 10 article, Wishma first came to Japan in June 2017 to learn Japanese. She met a fellow Sri Lankan at the language school she attended and at one point moved in with him and stopped attending classes. In August 2020, she showed up at a police station in Shizuoka Prefecture with only 1,350 yen in her possession, claiming that she escaped from the man, who she said had beaten her. and had taken money from him. She asked for help.

In 2008, the Department of Justice issued guidelines for immigration centers on how to approach foreign nationals who claim to be victims of domestic violence. With the help of interpreters and non-governmental organizations, they are required to deal directly with the complaints of these people and to help them get placed in shelters for victims if they feel they are in danger. danger. More importantly, if they are not in possession of their passport due to the actions of their attacker, the responsible official must provide them with a temporary residence permit.

In Wishma’s case, the official should have restored his previous visa status. An immigration official testifying before the Diet about Wishma’s death admitted that she said she had been a victim of domestic violence, but the facility did not treat her as such. She was treated simply as an overstay person.

Initially, she wanted to return to Sri Lanka, but according to a Japanese supporter who visited her in early December, she changed her mind, possibly because she had received a letter from the man she had been with. lived saying that his family was seeking revenge on Wishma. family at home. The supporter told Mochizuki that at this point the attitude of the staff had also changed. They were now urging her to go home. From that point on, Wishma’s mental and physical condition deteriorated.

In an article from August 13, Mochizuki calls the agency’s final report on Wishma’s death, released in early August, a “second rape,” saying experts have asked the agency to rewrite the report to reflect how the Nagoya center ignored them. guidelines. Mochizuki speaks with lawyers and doctors who say the report shows staff had no idea how to treat a victim of domestic violence and let her mental and physical condition worsen. The report focuses on Wishma’s unstable behavior prior to her death, with staff concluding that she was faking her illness in order to secure interim release.

Tokyo Broadcasting System, which was one of the first media outlets to report on the matter, broadcast a special report on the August 21 episode of its news magazine Hodo Tokushu which focused on the pain and anger of the Wishma sisters, who arrived in Japan in May. and were still there when the final report was released. TBS spends excessive time on the possible physiological reasons for his death, underscoring the agency’s conclusion that the problem lay in the deficiencies of the medical system attached to the Nagoya Detention Center. TBS does not mention the angle of domestic violence at all. Their report suggests that while Wishma’s death was inadmissible, her detention was justified.

Appearing on the TBS radio show “Session” on August 11, Shoichi Ibusuki, the attorney representing Wishma’s family, said the final report attempts to push forward the idea that the detention center staff work hard and are not abusive. Nonetheless, Ibusuki heard that prosecutors in Nagoya were considering laying charges for Wishma’s death. As Mainichi Shimbun pointed out, since 2007, 17 foreign nationals have died in migrant detention centers across Japan, including Wishma. The “Session” announcer notes that an NHK report she saw claims the problem has worsened because the number of undocumented foreigners increases, so detention centers are overcrowded and under. -managed. FNN Prime Online said something similar in the sense that Wishma’s death is a blow to the young civil servants who have to work for an immigration agency that does not respect human rights, as if it is they who are suffering and not the foreign nationals with which they work.

Ibusuki said that by focusing exclusively on poor medical care, the media misses the true story of Wishma’s death, namely that the Immigration Service Agency is promoting a program whose purpose is to keep Locked up latecomers and failed asylum seekers at all costs until they leave Japan, whatever their reasons for staying. It is an agenda reinforced by journalists when they do not present the whole picture.

See www.philipbrasor.com for addenda to Media Mix contributions.

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