Prosecutors drop case involving Sri Lankan woman who died in immigration centre

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Prosecutors drop case involving Sri Lankan woman who died in immigration centreIn mid-January 2021, the young Sri Lankan woman began to complain of severe pain while being held at an Immigration Services Bureau. She eventually died on 6 March.

Since then, Wishma’s family, who came from Sri Lanka, have sought nothing but justice. A few days ago, their hopes were dashed when the Public Prosecutors Office dropped charges against immigration officials for her death.

Wishma Sandamali arrived in Japan in 2017 on a study visa but in August 2020 she was taken to the detention centre in Nagoya for failing to leave when her visa expired.

In early 2021, Wishma begun to show signs of failing health. After medical tests were run in mid-February, she was found to be seriously ill.

For the Sandamali family, her death constitutes murder since senior officials at the immigration centre failed to respond to her pleas for help.

Last November, the victim’s younger sister Poornima filed a criminal complaint against 13 officials linked to Wishma's detention, accusing them of intentional negligence and wilfully failing to provide her with the appropriate care. They “didn't care even if she died," Poornima said.

On Thursday last week, the Nagoya District Public Prosecutors Office told the family that they would not proceed with the charges because it would be too difficult to prove that the officials failed to provide the required care.

After questioning people associated with the immigration facility, prosecutors decided that they did not have enough evidence to indict the officials. To reach their decision, prosecutors consulted their superiors, sources cited by Asahi Shimbun said.

Dissatisfied with the decision, the victim’s family is set file a request with the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, a body that reviews prosecutors’ decision.

Wishma's case has sparked controversy in Japan, generating a debate over the abuses to which foreigners are subjected in immigration facilities and how to reform Japanese immigration laws.

As a result of the emotionally charged case, a reform proposal has been made, but has not been followed up.

In the past ten years, Japan’s low birth-rate has forced Japanese authorities to open the country to immigration. Today, about 1.7 million foreigners live and work in the country, two and half times more than just a decade ago.

As the population shrinks and ages, Japan will need to increase immigration fourfold. Some studies estimate that by 2040 the country will need about 6.7 million immigrant workers.

by Guido Alberto Casanova