Abu-Bakr Awudu Suraj was a man from Ghana who spent 20 months in an Immigration detention center (The 700-inmate Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in Ibaraki Prefecture), before being manhandled onto a jetliner at Narita airport for deportation back to Ghana in March 2010.

He died in handcuffs on the plane. Immigration authorities allegedly used “excessive force” to restrain him.

Authorities have a right to hold foreigners, like Suraj, who violate immigration law. And what happens to them once they are locked up is for many a mystery. It became a legal litigation.

 And again on March 28, 2014 an Iranian prisoner at the same Ushiku immigration jail (Ibaraki Province) died after meal. Just two days later, on March 30, another prisoner from Cameroon passed away.

 Due to the fact that the circumstances of their death are difficult to assess, Tokyo Bar Association has launched an investigation on these strange cases. Lawyers’ representative, Takanaka Masahiko made a public statement on 23 April criticizing the handling of sick prisoners at immigration jails in Japan.

 According to the information given by immigration authorities the Iranian inmate being unable to breathe after the meal lost consciousness and was transported to the hospital where he died the next day. Two days later, the prisoner from Cameroon complained about suffering from illness. The medical doctor did not diagnosed a serious critical illness, but after sending him back to the jail cell they found him there unconscious and died in the way to the hospital.

Every year an inspection committee of immigration centers’ facilities had repeatedly reported on the lack of enough medical assistance to prisoners in immigration jails and the UN Committee for the abolition of torture has already shown concern about the medical facilities at the Ushiku center where both inmates passed away.

In spite of the remarks provided by different groups from inside and outside Japan, it is regrettable that the medical assistance was not improved and the death of 2 inmates in such a short time of only 2 days could not be prevented by proper medical assistance. There is no doubt that the responsibility of the immigration center and the officials of the Ministry of Justice are to be investigated.

The authorities of the center have the duty of looking after the health of the inmates and reasons must be provided for not accomplishing that duty. On the other hand, the Justice Ministry should urgently give an honest explanation of the facts concerning the death of both inmates to their kinship.

As a matter of fact, there should be a thorough investigation to prevent similar tragedies in the future and to improve the medical services in immigration jails by the already established inspection committee of immigration centers’ facilities or, preferably, by a new third party organization. Immigration authorities should disclose all pertinent data materials to the investigators.

The restriction of the freedom of the inmates and the limitation of their physical conditions should follow the regulations of international law. The above cases question immigration Japanese policies.

(Translated and edited, by Fr. Ando Isamu S.J., taken from the Japanese statement of Tokyo’s Bar Association) (2014/05/02)


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