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The conflicting viewpoints of the embassy and the girl’s family

a year ago

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By Pamodi Waravita  The death of Wishma Rathnayake, the Lankan student who died whilst in a Japanese immigration detention centre, caused serious concerns in both Sri Lanka and Japan. There were many accusations levelled against the authorities at the detention centre, who had reportedly turned a blind eye to her medical issues and refused to help her seek medical assistance. While some reports show that she had suffered in pain while officials had not given her emergency care moments before she died, the final report released by the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) of Japan earlier this month has found flaws in the medical care system at said facility, and reproached its top officials. This issue was brought to the forefront again this week when Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Shanakiyan Rasamanickam raised it in the Sri Lankan Parliament on Tuesday (17) and levelled accusations against Sri Lankan Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekara. “The Japanese Government has tendered an apology for her death, but the Sri Lankan Embassy in Japan has done nothing to help her. They have failed in their duty. Therefore action has to be taken against those in the Sri Lankan mission in Japan after conducting an inquiry,” he said. However, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekara on Wednesday (18) told The Morning that despite requests by Rathnayake’s family to view the entire security footage of her stay in the detention centre, the Japanese authorities had informed the Embassy that it is not practical to hand over six months of footage.  “They provided a two-hour summary of the footage to the family last week, and have informed us that the entire footage cannot be shown as it is six months long and contains sensitive information about the detention centre. We were informed that Rathnayake’s sisters had only watched part of the footage, and had left halfway through the viewing to speak to the media,” claimed Gunasekara.  Following the release of the footage on 12 August, the family’s legal representation told the media that Wayomi Rathnayake, one of the deceased’s sisters, had to stop watching it after an hour and 10 minutes, as she felt sick. “The video is important for everyone, and all foreigners should watch it. There is no humanity. Our sister was treated like a dog. We want to see the whole video, not just part of it,” Wayomi Rathnayake had told the media. Both the country’s Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa and the ISA Head Shoko Sasaki apologised for the Nagoya facility’s treatment of Wishma Rathnayake that resulted in her death. Wishma Ratnayake had been a teacher in Sri Lanka when she had gone abroad to study in Japan in 2017.  Wayomi Rathnayake told The Morning that in the letters Wishma Rathnayake had written while in detention, she had mentioned calling the Sri Lankan Embassy in Japan to inquire about her passport number, as she had been on the repatriation list to return to Sri Lanka.  “The first communication we received about Wishma Rathnayake was on 3 September 2020 from the Japanese Immigration authorities. We were formally informed that she was due to be deported at the time. Since Sri Lanka was only open to repatriation flights at the time, we added her name to the repatriation list as well. The Immigration authorities have mentioned in their report that they attempted to contact us in December 2020 as well. However, we don’t have any record of that. In January 2021, we were contacted by the Immigration authorities again, who gave us Wishma Rathnayake’s name and date of birth and asked us to find her family members. However, we could not proceed as a passport copy is also needed to find the family in Sri Lanka. We asked them for a passport copy but we did not hear back from them,” claimed Gunasekara. He further claimed that they were not informed of Wishma Rathnayake’s illness, nor were they contacted directly by Wishma Rathnayake, despite the report by the Immigration office noting that she had attempted to do so twice. He further questioned as to why the family had not contacted the Lankan Embassy in Japan when they had lost touch with Wishma Rathnayake.  “We didn’t know that she had any financial difficulties or visa-related problems since we lost contact with her. We tried our best to get in touch with her through her friends but she assured us that she was fine and that she was not able to constantly talk to us. Her diary mentioned that she didn’t want to trouble anyone with her problems,” claimed Wayomi Rathnayake.  According to Wayomi Rathnayake, since mid 2018, Wishma Rathnayake had reduced communications with her family members. Also, according to Wayomi Rathnayake, Wishma Rathnayake had last talked to her (Wayomi Rathnayake) when she had wished her on her marriage in 2019.  She had been detained for overstaying her student visa, which had reportedly been revoked in 2018 when she had been unable to pay her tuition fees. She was arrested in August 2020 by Japanese Immigration officials when she sought the help of the authorities to escape from an alleged violent domestic situation involving a Sri Lankan male.  “We came to Japan because we wanted to see the body. It was too expensive to bring her back to Sri Lanka, and we also wanted to confirm the identity. We saw her body on 17 May 2021, and we were not even provided with a photo prior to it.”  The family raised their doubts about the investigation, as the committee appointed to investigate the death and the Immigration Department both come under the Justice Ministry.  “We are worried that it is not an independent investigation. We got the interim report in Sri Lanka. We showed it to a doctor and a lawyer in Sri Lanka, who noticed many shortcomings in it. According to the doctor, they had only provided her with painkillers and vitamins, but not medicines that were directed to the medical condition. If she was vomiting blood, then why were they giving her medicines orally instead of intravenously or saline?” The family had also met the psychologist who treated Wishma Rathnayake while she was in detention. “He said that she only spoke two words. All other words were spoken by the Immigration officers. They had told the doctor that she was lying. However, the doctor had recommended that she be released temporarily for the sake of her health. The Immigration officers had said that they would decide if she needed hospital treatment.” Gunasekara meanwhile emphasised that the Embassy had done its best to support the family following Wishma Rathnayake’s death.  “We translated the interim report in two days and sent it to Sri Lanka. We have physically met various Japanese authorities about the matter over 16 times. Initially, the Immigration authorities didn’t want to show us the body but we contacted the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and received permission for it. When the family informed us that they want to see the footage, we requested the Justice Ministry for it. We believe that the family is represented by pro bono lawyers and non-profit organisations now. We cannot speak for their vested interests,” explained Gunasekara.  He added that Japan had also done its duty by investigating the death, and he believed that Japan would rectify its shortcomings. According to his personal view, if the family needs to be compensated, then the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) must facilitate that.  However, Wayomi Rathnayake said that they were merely seeking justice for their sister, and were not in Japan due to anyone else’s motives.  “How would you feel if your sister just died because of someone else’s neglect? You cannot let a person die because their visa has expired. We have not even mentioned compensation to anyone,” Wayomi Rathnayake added.  The Sri Lankan Embassy in Japan informed The Morning that currently about 30,000 Sri Lankans are legally in Japan, while 26 are under detention for visa overstaying, and 42 are being detained for alleged criminal actions.  

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