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Women Demand Justice for Immigrant Sister’s Death

Wayomi and Poornima Rathnayake are trying to shine a light onto negligence and corruption in the Japanese immigration system after their older sister Wishma died in a detention facility under mysterious circumstances.

In 2017, Wishma moved from her Sri Lanka hometown to a suburb of Tokyo, on a student visa. Her plan was to take language classes and eventually earn money as an English teacher. Her sister Wayomi said, "She never told us or gave us a sign that things weren't going well for her.” They first they learned of her sister’s trouble when the Sri Lankan embassy in Tokyo called to inform them of her death.

In shock and unsettled grief, the sisters traveled to Japan to find the answers behind their sister’s death. Wishma had been expelled from the language program and began working in a factory. Later that year, she applied for asylum, but her claim was denied, making her an illegal immigrant.

Eventually, she came to police and asked for help traveling to the immigration bureau in Nagoya, where she eventually met with officials. Her pleas for help were rebuffed, however, and Wishma spent the final seven months of her life in indefinite detention.

When the sisters tried to learn the details of her sister’s death, immigration officials initially tried to stonewall them, denying wrongdoing and refusing to show any video footage. But once the case was championed by activists advocating for reform in the Japanese immigration system, officials relented and released the footage. It showed Wishma sickly, begging for help from guards who refused her assistance.

Researchers say that the problem stems from a lack of accountability. In contrast to other countries, in Japan the immigration process is managed solely by the immigration agency--there is no court involvement. This lack of judicial review has resulted in a “black box” process, with no oversight.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Christians are called to show hospitality to foreigners. All people are made in God's image, and God is honored when God's people fight to preserve the inherent dignity and worth of everyone.

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