Japan drops immigration bill reform after detainee death

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s ruling lawmakers on Tuesday (May 18) dropped a controversial push to change rules on handling asylum seekers and deportations after opposition pressure over the death of a Sri Lankan woman.

The proposed legislation included changes making it easier to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers, something that was heavily criticised by rights groups.

Opposition mounted after the death in March of a Sri Lankan woman – identified by supporters as 33-year-old Wishma Sandamali – in immigration detention.

She was detained for overstaying her visa after seeking police protection, reportedly to escape an abusive relationship.

Sandamali reportedly complained repeatedly of stomach pain and other symptoms, starting in January, and campaigners allege she was given inadequate medical care. The cause of her death has not been officially disclosed.

Human rights campaigners have long criticised conditions at Japanese detention centres, including how guards respond to medical emergencies.

Opposition parties had pressed the government to release video footage of the woman’s condition in the facility, which the government declined, citing security reasons.

In response, the opposition refused to debate the immigration bill, and the ruling party announced it would drop the legislation to ease parliamentary tensions.

“We will no longer hold further discussions on the immigration law that is being deliberated at the lower house legal affairs committee,” Hiroshi Moriyama, the Diet affairs chief of the LDP, told reporters.

Japan accepts only about one percent of refugee applications it receives, placing a significant burden of proof on those who seek refuge and often detaining migrants for lengthy periods while their cases are processed.

The Sri Lankan woman’s family is currently in Japan and are expected to meet the justice minister later Tuesday.

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