Grim toll mounts in Japanese detention centers as foreigners seek asylum
Niculas Fernando was in Tokyo to see his son and sit out potentially violent elections at home. The Sri Lankan’s death, in a cell monitored around the clock, reveals fatal flaws in a system stretched by record numbers of asylum seekers.
TOKYO–Niculas Fernando died at a Tokyo immigration detention center sometime between 9:33 a.m. and 10:44 a.m. on November 22, 2014, according to the coroner.
But it wasn’t until shortly after 1 p.m. that day that guards realized something was badly wrong – even though Fernando had been moved to an observation cell monitored via closed-circuit television after complaining of sharp chest pain.
An inmate had to alert the guards before they rushed into Fernando’s cell and tried to revive him. They found him lying face down on a mattress stained with his urine. He was lifeless.
A devout Catholic from Sri Lanka, Fernando had come to visit his son, who lives in a Tokyo suburb where he works in a restaurant kitchen. He was the fourth person to die in Japan’s immigration detention system in 13 months. In total, 12 people have died in immigration detention since 2006, including four suicides. In 2015, 14 detainees tried to kill or harm themselves at the detention center where Fernando died, according to data from the facility.
A Reuters investigation into the circumstances surrounding Fernando’s death, including dozens of interviews with detainees, immigration officials and doctors, revealed serious deficiencies in the medical treatment and monitoring of Japan’s immigration detention centers. Guards with scant medical training make critical decisions about detainees’ health. Doctors visit some of the country’s main detention centers as infrequently as twice a week. And on weekends there are no medical professionals on duty at any of the immigration detention facilities, which held more than 13,600 people in 2014. Read more