Japan’s “Gaijin Tank” Immigration Detention Centers: The Death of Sri Lankan Wishma Sandamali highlights a senseless, inhuman, and extralegal system killing foreigners they’ve trapped.


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Hi Blog. At long last, I can get to this issue.

As I have written elsewhere, Japan’s Immigration Bureau Detention Centers (aka “Gaijin Tanks“) are an extra layer of incarceration that only non-citizens must deal with.

Regular Wajin Japanese, when detained, arrested, and/or incarcerated, go through Japan’s criminal justice and prison system.  However, because non-citizen detainees cannot renew their visas while in detention, any arrest and incarceration by police increases the probability of detention later in separate Immigration detention facilities (specifically reserved for non-citizen visa overstayers and refugees/asylum seekers). Detainees in these Immigration facilities (nyūkoku kanri sentā) face a different system both in terms of criminal procedure and living conditions.

In terms of procedure, inmates convicted of a specific crime and sentenced to a Japanese prison have a legally-defined release date, often with the possibility of parole; visa overstayers being detained in an Immigration detention center, however, have no specific limit to their detention period, resulting in people detained for several years (and for some, still counting).

In terms of living conditions, rights of detainees to adequate food, exercise and living space in Immigration Bureau detention centers are less regulated than in Japanese prisons (which are subject to international oversight regarding standards of favorable treatment). Consequently, inhospitable, unsanitary, and generally unmonitored conditions in these detention centers have occasioned protests both from human rights organizations and from the detainees, in the form of hunger strikes and suicides. Immigration detainees have also suffered and died from their medical conditions being neglected by detention officials, and from the over-prescription of sedatives and painkillers.

In 2021, the senseless death of a Sri Lankan named Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, due to medical negligence in a detention center, brought national attention and protest against the GOJ’s treatment of visa overstayers and asylum applicants—and the withdrawal of a bill before the Diet that would have only strengthened the ability for bureaucrats “to keep any foreign national in custody without the approval of a judge”, thus violating constitutional guarantees of due process.

Those are the headlines. Now for the sources:

  • See for example CCPR/C/79/Add.102, which notes, “[T]he Committee is concerned that there is no independent authority to which complaints of ill-treatment by the police and immigration officials can be addressed for investigation and redress. The Committee recommends that such an independent body or authority be set up by the State party without delay.United Nations, November 19, 1998; “Welcome to Japan?” Amnesty International, 2002, alleging extortion and physical abuse at the Narita Airport detention center, excerpt archived at www.debito.org/?p=9846.
  • “Detention centers lack doctors: Two facilities holding visa violators not offering proper medical care.” Daily Yomiuri, December 22, 2006 (the Japanese version of this article, dated December 21, has the more revealing headline, “Ōmura nyūkan sentā de jōkin-i fuzai 2 nen ni, kakuho no medo tatazu” [The Ōmura Detention Center has had no full-time doctor on call for two years now, and no idea when they will secure one].
  • Interviews, Michael. H. Fox, Director, Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Research Center, 2004-8.
  • Caterpillars and cockroaches: Foreigners lead hunger strike in immigration detention center.” Asahi Shinbun, October 18, 2007.
  • Detainees allege abuse at Kansai holding center.” Japan Times, March 9, 2010.
  • Immigration detainees end hunger strike.” Japan Times, March 22, 2010; “Inmates on hunger strike in Japan immigration center.” AFP, May 20, 2010; “Running to nowhere.” Kansai Time Out, June 2010.
  • “Deportee center hunger strike abates, detentions drag on.” Japan Times, September 1, 2012; “Nigerian dies after hunger strike in Japan detention center.” Reuters/Asahi Shinbun Asia-Japan Watch, June 27, 2019; “Death in Detention: Grim toll mounts in Japanese detention centers as foreigners seek asylum.” Reuters, March 8, 2016, archived at www.debito.org/?p=13885, noting: “The watchdog report drew attention to what it said was the heavy prescription of drugs to detainees. At the time he died, Ghadimi had been prescribed 15 different drugs, including four painkillers, five sedatives—one a Japanese version of the tranquilizer Xanax—and two kinds of sleeping pills, the report said. At one point during his incarceration, he was on a cocktail of 25 different pills.”
  • Ex-immigration boss: detentions too long.” Japan Times, July 14, 2010, former Immigration Bureau chief Sakanaka Hidenori proposed that detentions in Immigration facilities not exceed one year; however, once oversight mechanisms were activated in August 2011, the number of detainees awaiting deportation or asylum permission for more than six months dropped dramatically (indicating how lax oversight had hitherto been).
    See “Foreigners held by immigration sharply down after reviewing rules.” Mainichi Shinbun, February 4, 2012.
  • Nevertheless, abuses, some resulting in fatalities, continue to the present. See for example Asylum-seeker dies after collapsing at detention center while doctor at lunch.” AFP/Japan Today and Japan Times, October 25, 2013; “Immigration detention centers under scrutiny in Japan after fourth death.” Reuters, December 3, 2014; “Immigration detention centers like prisons, U.K. inspectors say.” Japan Times, February 6, 2015; “Immigration detention centers like prisons, U.K. inspectors say.” Japan Times, February 6, 2015—and I make the case that they are worse than prisons at www.debito.org/?p=13056
  • “Progressive News Service: Deaths of unknown persons in the custody of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police: At least 5 in past year.” Debito.org, March 9, 2015, www.debito.org/?p=13136
  • “Sri Lankan woman dies in detention, wrote about her hunger.” Asahi Shinbun, March 15, 2021; “A Sri Lankan’s tragic death in Japan casts a harsh spotlight on controversial refugee system.” Straits Times, April 24, 2021, which notes, “Ms. Wishma was vomiting blood in her final days, and was so weak that she had no control of her arms and legs. The immigration authorities allegedly turned a blind eye to medical expert advice to put her on an intravenous drip or to grant her provisional release to ease her stress. A report by public broadcaster NHK suggested that officials tend to suspect malingering for minor illnesses in their reluctance to grant provisional release.”
  • Finally, “Left in limbo: Japan’s haphazard immigration policies, disrespect for human rights.” Mainichi Shinbun, April 19, 2019, notes,As of the end of July 2018, of the 1,309 detainees nationwide, 54 percent had been detained for six months or longer. According to attorneys and others who provide assistance to foreign workers in Japan, 13 foreign nationals died by suicide or from illness while in detention between 2007 and 2018. Many detainees complain of appalling health conditions at detention centers, saying they are hardly permitted to see physicians. A damages lawsuit brought against the central government at the Mito District Court for the 2014 death of a then 43-year-old Cameroonian man while he was detained at Higashi Nihon Immigration Center in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Ushiku is ongoing. His mother, who resides in Cameroon, filed the suit.According to the legal complaint that was filed, the man had been confirmed as diabetic after a medical consultation at the immigration center. He began to complain of pain in February 2014, and died at the end of March that year. Security cameras at the center captured him saying in English that he felt like he was dying starting the night before his death, and the footage has been saved as evidence. Even after the man fell from his bed, he was left unattended, and a staff member found him in cardiopulmonary arrest the following morning. He was transported to a hospital where he was confirmed dead. “Immigration officials have a duty to provide emergency medical care,” says the plaintiff’s attorney, Koichi Kodama. “The government should be accountable for revealing who was watching the footage of the man rolling around on the floor, screaming in pain, and whether anyone went directly to his room to check on his condition.”
  • Sri Lankan’s death in spotlight as Japan debates immigration bill.”
    Japan Times/Kyodo News, May 12, 2021; “Immigration reform fails to resolve asylum contradictions.” Japan Times, March 13, 2021; “Withdrawal of immigration bill underscores Suga’s precarious standing.” Japan Times/Kyodo News, May 19, 2021.

There are plenty of other articles out there, since the Wishma Sandamali Case attracted so much attention.  However, it was not soon enough for some, and won’t be for others still being destroyed by this system.  For as Submitter JK notes,


“Relindis Mai Ekei did not die in detention [in January 2021] like Wishma Sandamali. Instead, she died in hospital [of untreated breast cancer] about three hours before receiving her residence card (在留カード):

Was Cameroonian woman’s death hours before she received Japan residency avoidable? (Pt. 1)

Was Cameroonian woman’s death hours before she received Japan residency avoidable? (Pt. 2)

Was Cameroonian woman’s death hours before she received Japan residency avoidable? (Pt. 3)


From the article:

If Mai’s status of residence had been granted earlier, she would have been able to take better care of herself through welfare and health insurance.


Even more on the Gaijin Tanks issue starting from here: https://www.debito.org/?p=13885#comment-1805327.

There is no defense for this inhumane extralegal detention system that is killing people through willful negligence simply because they are foreigners incarcerated.  We catalog it all here on Debito.org for the record.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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42 comments on “Japan’s “Gaijin Tank” Immigration Detention Centers: The Death of Sri Lankan Wishma Sandamali highlights a senseless, inhuman, and extralegal system killing foreigners they’ve trapped.

  • As if on cue…

    Horrible ‘hospitality’: Detainees talk about reality of Japan immigration facility in film

    「日本は『おもてなし』の国なのか」 収容者が語る入管の実態

    Horrible ‘hospitality’: Detainees talk about reality of Japan immigration facility in film
    July 2, 2021 (Mainichi Japan)

    TOKYO — It is still fresh in our minds that in March this year, a Sri Lankan woman who was in detention at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau died without being able to receive the medical treatment she sought. What is going on in the “closed rooms” of Japan’s immigration facilities? Ian Thomas Ash, a filmmaker from the United States, brought a small camera into a visiting room to make the documentary film “Ushiku.” What are the realities inside the immigration facility as told by the detainees?

    The title of the film refers to the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center located in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture. It is one of the 17 immigration detention facilities in Japan.

    It was in the fall of 2019 that Ash, who is based in Tokyo, first visited the Ushiku immigration center. He was asked by his friends who were conducting visitation activities for detainees if he wanted to join them.

    “I was concerned about the foreigners in the detention center. When I actually visited, some of them were so weak (both physically and mentally) that I felt their lives were in danger,” Ash said.

    The 45-year-old filmmaker told the Japanese people around him what he felt of the visit, but the reaction was muted. What came back were words based on misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge, such as “It’s the same as prison, isn’t it?” and “Everyone is a criminal anyway, right?”

    One of Ash’s motivations for working on the film was that he felt that the reality of the immigration facility was not well known. In addition, facing the harsh conditions that foreigners like himself are experiencing, he said, “I was driven by a sense of mission to do something about it.”

    However, there was a big barrier to the filming. Visitors are not allowed to enter the rooms where the detainees usually stay. The only place where they could have contact with the detainees was the visiting room, but the Immigration Services Agency of Japan does not allow cameras or recording devices to be brought in for “security reasons,” and smartphones are also not allowed. So Ash decided to use a small camera.

    “Human rights violations were happening right in front of my eyes. As a witness, I felt I had to record it. If I didn’t go inside, I wouldn’t be able to get that evidence. The rules should be respected, but as a human being, I felt I shouldn’t keep a lid on what was happening in front of my eyes,” Ash said.

    The visiting room has a glass partition that separates the detainees from the visitors. Ash brought his camera in from the winter of 2019 and filmed the detainees over several months as they talked about the conditions within the facility and their own feelings. In his work, he released footage of nine people who eventually gave their consent (one person only provided audio). Their faces are not blurred out, and their real names are given.

    “Even prisons have prison terms (length of detention), but this place doesn’t have a set time for when people get out. That’s the hardest part,” said a middle-aged detainee with a gloomy face. His wife comes to see him every month, but the visitation time is only 30 minutes. They can’t even hug because there is a partition, and the visitation time passes in a flash. The prolonged detention caused the man to become mentally unstable and he attempted suicide.

    Another man around his 30s appeared in the visiting room in a wheelchair and was silent for a while. He looked as if he was frightened of something. When Ash asked him about his situation, he confessed that previously he was about to be deported and taken to Narita Airport. The detainee said that he was held down by several officials and when he screamed out in fear, they held his mouth and nose. His face twisted many times as he spoke, as if the pain of that time had come back to haunt him. “These people (immigration officers) are too wicked,” the man complained as if he were squeezing out his words.

    An elderly man testified that he was handcuffed when he was transferred from the facility to an outside medical institution. Doctors and nurses treated him roughly, “like we are garbage,” he recalls. The man drew pictures of his feelings and the events that occurred in the detention center, and he showed Ash a picture of a large hole. The composition was looking up from below, and there was a beautiful blue sky over the hole. “This is my life now. I (am) inside this hole, I hope to go out,” the man murmured.

    The detainees in the film are seeking protection as refugees, fearing persecution and oppression if they return to their home countries. However, in Japan, where the average rate of refugee status recognition over the past 10 years has been less than 1%, the chances of their applications being approved are slim to none. As a result, long-term detention against one’s will has become common. In the midst of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, the Tokyo Olympics, which the government is working hard to host, is based on the concept of “diversity and harmony.” However, what the film brings to light is the exact opposite of that side of Japan, Ash says.

    “They say ‘Omotenashi, Japan is full of hospitality.’ Yeah, my (expletive). Is this what you call hospitality?” one detainee said.

    According to the immigration services agency, as of the end of 2020, there were 207 detainees who had been locked up for six months or longer. Of these, 41 had been detained for at least three years (the figure is the total for all facilities).

    There is no upper limit on the length of detention, and there is also no mechanism for a third party to judge the appropriateness of detention. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and other bodies have repeatedly called on the Japanese government to correct these conditions. In recent years, there have been a number of deaths at immigration facilities that appear to have been caused by long-term detention.

    It is true that the detainees are in violation of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, but does that justify restraints that deprive them of so much freedom?

    Ash emphasized, “In the first place, they are in the process of applying for refugee status. Whether they are refugees or not has not yet been decided. The question is whether it is right to house them in this way. And even if they are not refugees, does that mean they have no human rights?”

    The attitude of the immigration authorities seems to be more focused on “exclusion” than “protection.” Ash believes that this is also the atmosphere that Japanese society contains. Even though he has been living in Japan for almost 20 years, he still feels the occasional cold stare. He also feels uncomfortable every time someone says to him, “Your Japanese is good,” or “You can use chopsticks.” He even had a policeman ask him to show his passport when he was walking down the street.

    “Here (Japan) is my home. I love Japan. But sometimes I feel like people are saying, ‘You’re different, you’re not like us.’ No matter how much I feel at home, it’s different,” the filmmaker said.

    The problems of immigration control are also connected to society. It is because of this conviction that Ash wants to bring this film to as many people as possible. “I didn’t make this film to tell people that ‘Japan is such a terrible country,'” he said.

    “These things are happening, but what do you think? Are you OK with this? That’s the message I hope people will take away from the film.”

    “Ushiku” won the “Nippon Docs Award” in the documentary category at the 21st Nippon Connection held from June 1 to 6. Nippon Connection is one of the world’s largest film festivals dedicated to Japanese films, held annually in Germany, but this year it was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic. The release date of “Ushiku” has not been decided yet. As soon as it is decided, details will be announced on the official website at: https://www.ushikufilm.com/ .


    Ian Thomas Ash

    Born in 1975 in New York, Ash first came to Japan in 2000 through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, which is sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and invites young people from abroad. After working as an English teacher, Ash went to graduate school in the U.K. to study filmmaking. After coming to Japan again, he began his filmmaking career on a full scale. Ash’s major works include “Sending Off” (2019), which closely follows the scene of at-home nursing care, and “A2-B-C” (2013), which follows children in Fukushima after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

    (Japanese original by Yukinao Kin, Digital News Center)

    「日本は『おもてなし』の国なのか」 収容者が語る入管の実態
    毎日新聞 2021/6/28 09:00(最終更新 6/28 09:00)

     今年3月に名古屋入管で収容中のスリランカ人女性が希望する治療を受けられずに死亡したことは記憶に新しい。入管施設内の「密室」で何が起きているのか。米国出身の映像作家、イアン・トーマス・アッシュさん(45)は面会室に小型カメラを持ち込むなどしてドキュメンタリー映画「牛久 Ushiku」を製作した。収容者が語る内部の実態とは――。【金志尚/デジタル報道センター】










    Rest behind paywall

  • Japan immigration may have misled doctor who saw Sri Lankan detainee 2 days before death
    July 3, 2021 (Mainichi Japan), courtesy of Niklas

    NAGOYA — Immigration bureau officials here may have misled a doctor examining a detained Sri Lankan woman into thinking she could be feigning illness to get temporary release, her bereaved sisters reportedly heard during a July 2 meeting with the doctor.

    Wishma Sandamali, who was detained at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau, died aged 33 just two days after the psychiatrist saw her. The same doctor has told her sisters that immigration services informed them, “Around the time her supporters told her she could get temporary release if she got sick, she started developing psychosomatic symptoms.”

    The doctor reportedly concluded that, based on the bureau employees’ explanation, she was possibly feigning illness.

    Her supporters have denied telling her that getting sick could lead to her release, and said, “It is very serious that erroneous information was presented that swayed a doctor’s judgment.”

    On July 2, a group including Wishma’s sisters Wayomi, 28, and Poornima, 27, and their legal representative Shoichi Ibusuki spoke to reporters after a face-to-face meeting with a psychiatrist at Nagoya Ekisaikai Hospital. They said they would visit the Immigration Services Agency and find the truth.

    According to Ibusuki and others, the doctor said that if they hadn’t been given the verbal explanation from the immigration bureau, they “wouldn’t have suspected (Wishma’s) illness was an act.”

    They also said they had been told that the bureau had already had a physician run tests on Wishma that turned up nothing, which allegedly led them to seek a psychiatric diagnosis.

    The doctor also described Wishma’s condition on the day they saw her, reportedly telling the group, “Although I’d been told her physical health was fine, she looked exhausted and weak.”

    Despite the doctor telling immigration bureau officials her condition would be better if she were temporarily released, the officials reportedly responded that they would look at the examination results.

    The events the doctor described were not included in an interim report by the Immigrations Services Agency. Yasunori Matsui, an advisor at support organization Start, which gave aid to Wishma, said angrily, “We did not make the statements that the doctor has described. They were arbitrary assumptions by the immigration bureau.”

    The Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau has said it will “refrain from comment” to reporters.

    On the same day, Wishma’s sisters met with prosecutors at the Nagoya District Public Prosecutors Office who are investigating the case. While there, they asked for a swift examination of what happened.

    (Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Bureau)

    入管、誤った情報伝えたか スリランカ女性死亡2日前受診の医師に
    毎日新聞 2021/7/2






  • Jim Di Griz says:

    ‘Admonished’ and ‘reprimanded’ for manslaughter;

    Oooh, that’ll teach them. They’ll never risk that again…
    I wonder if ‘diverse Japan’ SJW Naomi Osaka will wear a mask with her name in it, or something?

    Excerpt: “The Immigration Services Agency admitted medical care system flaws Tuesday in a report into the death of a Sri Lankan woman detained at an immigration facility and reprimanded the center’s top officials and supervisors.

    The report also pointed out that repeated requests for medical care from the woman, Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, had not reached senior officials of the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau. She died at the age of 33 at the facility […] on March 6 while in custody after complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms from mid-January. She had applied for but was refused provisional release for hospital treatment.

    The report noted that a part-time doctor was deployed to the facility in Nagoya only twice a week on weekdays, for two hours each time.

    Medical personnel were not available on Saturdays, the day that she died, and staff at the facility did not make an emergency call, according to the report.

    Her requests for hospital treatment, which needed to be approved by the facility chief to be realized, ended up not being heard by any of senior officials as detention officers and other staff members with whom Wishma had contact concluded that there was no need for her to see a doctor, the report said.

    Many detention officers suspected that Wishma had exaggerated her symptoms in hopes of getting released temporarily, the report showed.

    It also found that a detention officer made fun of her when she was unable to swallow and spilled her drink out of her nose.”

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    While this tragedy occurred at Nagoya branch of Immigration Services Agency, I hold the MOJ and Japan Immigration Services Agency accountable for normalizing this kind of criminalization practice. I stopped calling them Immigration Services Agency, and replaced it with Japan ICE.

    • Mark in Yayoi says:

      @Jaocnanoni, I see that there are (as of this moment) 328 comments on that tweet, the first few of which are supportive. Is there a way to see the rest of the comments without signing up for Twitter? A login screen pops up any time I try to click on anything to read further.

      • That’s odd. It’s a public tweet, so you shouldn’t have any problems seeing all comments that are also public (most are). I just checked and had no such issues. There’s of course an obnoxious “sign up” caption, but it doesn’t cancel out the entire screen or make navigation impossible.

  • Does this come as a great surprise??:

    EDITORIAL: Justice minister failing to deal with death of Sri Lankan detainee

    Photo/Illustration Wishma Sandamali’s sisters hold sign as they head for the Immigration Services Agency in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 10 to see the video footage of Wishma, who died during detention. The signs show they collected 76,421 signatures from people supporting their petition demanding the release of the video footage. (The Asahi Shimbun)

    The Justice Ministry’s response to the death of a Sri Lankan detainee at an immigration facility casts serious doubt over the ministry’s commitment to ensuring that no tragedy of this kind will occur again.

    The immigration control authority has been scrambling to protect its organization instead of facing up to serious problems behind the death of Wishma Sandamali from illness at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in March.

    The way the authority has been handling the scandal has incurred the distrust of her bereft family.

    The Immigration Services Agency had security camera footage showing Wishma’s last two weeks in detention. Officials at the agency edited the video footage recorded up to her death on March 6 down to just two hours before making it available to her two sisters last month.

    But the sisters had to stop watching the footage after about 70 minutes as they became too distressed to continue seeing how Wishma grew weaker day by day, and the inhumane behavior of immigration officials taking care of her.

    They were scheduled to watch the rest of the edited footage last week, but did not because the agency refused to allow their lawyer to be with them as they watch the video. The matter has reached a stalemate.

    The principal obligation of a public facility to detain individuals for law enforcement reasons is to protect the lives and health of detainees and help them return to society.

    But officials at the facility in Nagoya failed to make serious responses to Wishma’s claim of ill health, allowing her to die. Needless to say, the facility should be held strictly accountable for what happened.

    The video footage offers some clues to the facts. But it would be difficult for the bereft family, who came from Sri Lanka to Japan in haste following Wishma’s death, to grasp and evaluate accurately the situation surrounding the tragedy.
    They have the right to want the lawyer they trust to be present when they watch the video due to their anxiety and for other reasons.

    But the authority says it allowed the bereft family to watch the video as an exception in special consideration of their feelings. It has cited security concerns and the dignity of the deceased as reasons for refusing to allow a lawyer to be present with the sisters when they watch the video.

    But the reasons cited are far from convincing. Since the video only shows Wishma in her cell, it is hard to image how the presence of a lawyer can raise any “security concerns.” The key question confronting the immigration control authority is how it viewed the “dignity” of Wishma and how it actually treated her.

    The authority’s rationale for refusing a lawyer’s presence appears to be nothing but a pretext for preventing the facts from being scrutinized.

    The bereft family also demanded disclosure of administrative documents concerning the events leading to her death. The authority disclosed some 15,000 pages of such documents as the officials’ daily reports on their operations and records of meetings between Wishma and her supporters. But most parts were blacked out.

    The authority cited possible effects on security operations and protection of personal information as reasons for taking the step.

    All these acts have effectively denied the grieving family’s access to all relevant information held by the agency. The agency’s behavior can only be characterized as an all-out effort to conceal key facts at the cost of its credibility.

    There are other facts that call into question whether Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa is doing what is expected of the top official responsible for justice in law enforcement.

    One is the task force she has set up to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents. It is difficult not to be appalled to learn that the team is headed by a senior official at the agency.

    In response to a sequence of inmate injuries and fatalities in Nagoya Prison and a scandal over the fabrication of investigative evidence and subsequent cover-up involving officials at the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office, the ministry sought the help of many independent experts to reform the organization and the system.

    The lukewarm responses to the death of a foreign detainee attest that Kamikawa is not aware of the seriousness of the problems behind the tragedy.
    –The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 15

  • Kirk Masden says:

    This is a following up to my note about TBS’s coverage of the issue.

    In fact, the video is currently available:


    The first half is about the government’s decision to pay a settlement to Masako Akagi rather than let the truth about why her husband committed suicide be know. The second half is about the Wishma Sandamali case. Definitely worth viewing.

  • There are still people who are detained in a terribly emaciated state. Japan’s immigration authorities have not changed one bit. They are keeping refugees and immigrants confined, and reporting deaths almost every year. This is plain torture.

    Instead of ‘immigration detention centers’, perhaps we should start calling these places ’emaciation detention centers’?

    Frustration grows over deaths and ill treatment at immigration detention centers in Japan

    特集ワイド:収容死の責任「言い逃れ」と怒り 「入管は何も変わらない」 犠牲重ねる司法軽視

  • @JK From what I read from your link, I think we can start calling them concentration camps.

    „However, when he showed up to the immigration facility one month later, he was informed that he would be detained again on the grounds of gaining weight.“

    Seriously, how is that even possible? I don‘t understand how these „immigration officers“ (concentration camp guards) can sleep at night. This is just pure torture and murder. I really wish the UN could do some sanctions, because Japan is not interested in solving this. But that‘s impossible of course. It‘s amazing how there‘s a lot of talk about boycotting the games in China this year, but no one talked about Japan at all. Why does Japan always get a free pass? I guess it‘s because they‘re an US ally, but the racism in Japan becomes more extreme every year (at least that‘s my feeling, especially since covid). How long can you hide it and how long can people close their eyes?

  • @Niklas, I think its clear Japan has been given free rein to be racist at the micro level, force NJs to pay into an ailing pension fund etc. because these are not likely to be areas of interest or liberalization by the US Government in the face of of a resurgent China.

    So long as the USA keeps them bases, anything goes. My point earlier though was if the Japanese media starts blaming the bases for Covid, then there will certainly be kickback because that is America’s red line in Japan; don’t mess with the bases.

  • @Niklas

    Why does Japan always get a free pass?

    Three reasons come to mind:

    No longer in the international limelight (like in the 70’s and 80’s).
    ‘G7’ country (more like G7 camouflage IMO).
    Curb appeal (i.e. manga, anime, fuji-san, sumo, atomic bomb dome, etc.).

  • -Why does Japan always get a free pass? I guess it‘s because they‘re an US ally, but the racism in Japan becomes more extreme every year

    Without going too far away from the thread, I think its also because Japan has always been poorly understood because it was of marginal interest “too far away” and because as Wilde pointed out, the western construct of “Japan” did not really exist. It always makes me groan when I read textbooks glossing over war criminals like Nobusukebe (pun intended) Kishi, and say things like “after the war Japan became a democracy”. Oh yeah, as if by magic, the spirits did it all in one night, did they?

    In the 80s Japan got a free pass because of those tantalizing sweetheart deals and economic power though there was some “Japan bashing” kickback (Crichton, Rising Sun) .
    Now Japan gets a free pass because people outside Japan couldn’t care less, its not such a major player economically (partly because of the perceived “racist” exclusionist practices making it seem “hard” to deal with or invest in), and so its back to the original reason why Japan was hurriedly rebranded at the outbreak of the Korean war; a bulwark against a resurgent China.

    Also rans get the “yeah, whatever” treatment. Though I fully expect the US Embassy in Japan to issue more warnings as we are now starting to see, to its citizens remaining here,

  • Looks like this poor guy is on the ‘Sandamali’ health care track:

    The man’s right to receive appropriate medical care was infringed on, and his health deteriorated. The immigration center neglected its duty to decide he was a candidate for surgery, and has left his illness to worsen, which constitutes a human rights violation.

    Bedridden Nepali man at Japan immigration center demands surgery, says life at risk

    「生命の危機」 大村入管収容のネパール人 人権救済を申し立て

  • Update: Relatives of Wishma Sandamali are suing the GoJ for 156 million yen ($1.35 million).

    In related news, an expert panel (created by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan in response to Sandamali’s death) suggest that the treatment of full-time doctors should be improved in order to build a proper medical system at detention facilities:

    Experts call for better treatment of full-time doctors at immigration facilities in Japan / 「入管での常勤医師の待遇改善を」 ウィシュマさん死亡で有識者会議

    Well, this is all fine and well, but to use a medical analogy, my diagnosis is that this treating the symptom instead of the underlying problem.

  • While I agree with Mr. Nguyen in that a) there must not be any more deaths among detainees, and b) immigration center employees need to treat detainees as human beings, I can’t help but wonder why he ended up in a Gaijin Tank in the first place.

    From the article, Mr. Nguyen landed in Japan in 1989, was granted refugee status in 1992, got married, and held a few jobs, so he’s obviously not FOTB. The timeline of events from 1992 onward is a bit unclear, so it’s hard to say for certain when he was arrested, but in any case, he serves ~3 years in prison, then somehow ends up in the Osaka Gaijin Tank followed by the Nagasaki Gaijin Tank in 2016.

    Based on the fact that he was granted refugee status way back in 1992, it sounds like Mr. Nguyen is at least a Long-Term Resident — if so, this raises an important (and troubling) question: who else can find themselves in a Gaijin Tank?

    Permanent Residents? Spouses or children of Japanese nationals?

    Vietnamese denied tumor treatment urges Japan immigration to ‘treat detainees as humans’ / ベトナム人男性、収容中に腫瘍の治療認められず「人間として扱って」

    While I am on the subject of detaining Vietnamese men, apparently it’s now possible to be arrested for looking foreign if someone suspects you of assailing them:

    Tokyo police falsely arrested Vietnamese man over alleged assault / 警視庁、30代のベトナム人男性を誤認逮捕 2時間半後に釈放

    Luckily for the guy in question, he didn’t end up in a Gaijin Tank.

  • @JK
    From the article:
    “We should have had the victim check”

    Um, don’t you mean alleged victim? Or have you already decided the case?

  • An NPO calls out NHK on one-sided (and false) reporting:

    ‘One-sided’ NHK report on Japan immigration authorities slammed by nonprofit group / NHK報道にNPOが抗議声明 「外国人の不法滞在長期化」放送

    From the article: “It said in the program, “For humanitarian reasons, immigration officials in principle do not forcibly deport foreign nationals by physically restraining them or by other means.” The nonprofit group, however, pointed out, “There have been cases in which foreigners who were issued deportation orders have died after immigration officials attempted to force them onto airplanes or rolled them up in a mat. It (the program content) is not true.””

  • Taken at face value, this is a big story:

    Japan gov’t ordered to pay 1.65 mil yen over death of Cameroonian man

    Japan ordered to pay over death of Cameroonian in state custody

    収容者男性死亡、国に賠償命令 東日本入管、救急搬送せず

    入管収容のカメルーン人男性死亡、国側に賠償165万円 地裁判決

    However, as regular Debito.org readers will know, in Japan, the wheels of justice turn slowly for NJ (if at all), and when they do, the results are paltry; the case of the nameless Cameroonian man is no exception: his mother sought 10 million yen in restitution, but 8 years later was awarded barely more than 1.65 million yen ($11,500).

  • In this op-ed by Asahi Shimbun regarding ‘Cameroonian man’ (question: does anyone know his actual name? It grates on my nerves to keep referring to this person as if though he were the titular character of a movie from the 90’s) the author states that “Under the Regulation for Penal Institutions and Treatment of Inmates based on the Immigration Control Law, the heads of immigration detention centers are required to ensure that every injured or sick detainee is seen by a medical doctor” then wonders “Could it be possible that this regulation has effectively become a dead letter?”

    Short answer: Yes!

  • On November 3rd, the U.N. Human Rights Committee released its findings regarding the extent to which Japan is complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    Well, spoiler alert, it isn’t — the committee expressed concerns about the treatment of foreign nationals detained at gaijin tanks and called on Japan to take steps to improve conditions:

    U.N. body voices ‘concern’ about detainees held by immigration

    遺族「医療体制の改善を」15年間で外国人17人死亡… 国連が入管施設に“改善”勧告(2022年11月4日)

  • And another one bites the dust (two months in a row!):

    Italian detainee dies in apparent suicide at Tokyo immigration

    Italian man found dead at detention center; suicide looked at / 東京入管に収容中のイタリア人男性が死亡

    Question for Debito.org readers: When ‘Israeli man’ died in detention back in October, that should have been the 18th NJ to die in a Gaijin tank, right? Yet somehow when ‘Italian man’ dies in detention this month (November), this death is counted as #18?


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