When her father died, the college graduate satisfied her mom she might earn sufficient cash working overseas as an English trainer to fund her retirement.
The household remortgaged their house, and in 2017, Rathnayake moved to Narita, on the outskirts of Tokyo, on a scholar visa.
Inside three years, she was lifeless.
After overstaying her visa, Rathnayake was detained in Japan’s immigration system, the place she died on March 6, 2021, on the age of 33.
Rathnayake’s case made headlines in Japan and fueled debate over the remedy of foreigners within the nation, the place 27 immigration detainees have died since 1997, in line with the Japan Attorneys Community for Refugees.
Her dying has additionally uncovered the dearth of transparency in a system the place folks can languish for years with no prospect of launch — a system that her sisters at the moment are campaigning to alter.
Chasing a dream
Rathnayake was 29 when she arrived in Narita, and her Fb feed quickly full of photos of vacationer websites and new pals.
From Sri Lanka, her youthful sisters, Wayomi and Poornima, heard she was attending language courses and appeared to be glad. “She by no means advised us or gave us an indication that issues weren’t going properly for her,” stated Wayomi Rathnayake, now 29.
What her sisters did not know was that Rathnayake stopped attending language courses in Could 2018 and was later expelled. The identical month, she began working in a manufacturing unit earlier than claiming asylum that September. Her declare was rejected in January 2019, and from then on she was thought-about an unlawful immigrant.
Cellphone calls house turned much less frequent, and in August 2020, it turned clear why. That month, Rathnayake approached a police station in Shizuoka prefecture, removed from house, looking for assist to go away her accomplice.
Rathnayake advised the officers her visa had expired and she or he needed to go to the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau however did not come up with the money for to get there, in line with Yasunori Matsui, the director of START, a non-profit that helps overseas nationals detained in Japan.
Initially, Rathnayake agreed to return to Sri Lanka, however she modified her thoughts after her accomplice wrote two letters threatening to trace her down and punish her if she returned house, in line with Matsui.
“She believed she can be killed by him,” stated Matsui, who met Rathnayake on the immigration bureau in December 2020.
The primary her sisters knew she was in hassle was in March 2021, when the Sri Lankan Embassy in Tokyo known as to say she was lifeless.
Rathnayake’s household requested for a report and photographic proof, however their requests went unanswered, and in Could her youthful sisters traveled to Japan to hunt the reality.
After they arrived, they noticed Rathnayake in a funeral casket in Nagoya. “She seemed so totally different, so weak and unrecognizable. Her pores and skin was wrinkled like an outdated individual, and it was caught firmly to her bones,” stated Poornima Rathnayake, 27.
Throughout seven months in detention, she’d misplaced 20 kilograms (44 kilos).
Her sisters needed to know why.
Most of all, they needed to see closed-circuit video of her ultimate weeks in custody.
However authorities refused entry.
A damaged system
For 3 months, the sisters and their authorized staff rallied for solutions, assembly with officers and demanding the discharge of the video.
Their calls had been echoed by supporters and a few politicians advocating for stronger rights for overseas nationals in Japan, and earlier this yr a call on whether or not to launch the footage turned a significant focus of debate within the nation’s Parliament.
On the time, Japanese lawmakers had been debating a invoice that will have revised the principles on governing foreigners in detention, together with provisions to deport folks after two failed bids for refugee safety.
The aim of the invoice was to cut back the variety of migrants in Japanese detention amenities, which had climbed to 1,054 in 2020, in line with information from the Immigration Company of Japan.
However rights teams, together with a bunch of United Nations specialists, stated components of the invoice threatened to breach worldwide human rights requirements. For instance, they stated the clause on deportation might violate the precept of non-refoulement by forcing folks to nations the place they concern persecution.
“The controversy surrounding the invoice helped construct a nationwide debate round her dying and the difficulty of how foreigners are handled in Japan,” stated Kosuke Oie, an immigration lawyer supporting her household.
The invoice was finally scrapped.
Japan has historically had a low consumption of migrants, although in recent times it has begun accepting extra overseas staff.
And in a significant shift final month, the Japanese authorities stated it was contemplating permitting foreigners in sure expert jobs keep indefinitely, from as early as 2022.
However some say Japan nonetheless has a protracted option to go, and that Rathnayake’s dying casts a highlight on an immigration system in dire want of reform.
Sanae Fujita, a researcher on the college of legislation on the College of Essex, says the primary drawback is that Japan’s immigration bureau wields nice energy and is accountable to no person.
“In distinction to different nations, in Japan the immigration course of is managed solely by the immigration company — there isn’t a courtroom involvement,” she stated. “This lack of judicial evaluate has resulted in what some have known as a ‘black field’ course of, with no oversight.”
In an announcement, the rights group stated detention amenities needs to be utilized as “a measure of final resort to cut back their extreme use.”
A spokesperson for the Immigration Companies Company declined to touch upon Fujita’s claims.
‘Handled like an animal’
In August, a report carried out by Japan’s Immigration Companies Company, with third-party specialists together with medical professionals, discovered the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau had uncared for to supply Rathnayake with correct medical care.
The power’s prime officers and supervisors had been reprimanded, and Japan’s minister of justice and head of the Immigration Companies Company issued a proper apology for her dying.
And, for the primary time within the case of any immigration dying, officers allowed Rathnayake’s sisters to look at an edited two-hour video exhibiting her ultimate two weeks in detention. They solely managed to look at half.
Poornima Rathnayake stated the video made her bodily sick.
Wayomi Rathnayake advised reporters straight after the viewing that the clips confirmed her sister falling from mattress and guards laughing as milk ran from her nostrils.
“Within the video, the guards advised Wishma to stand up by herself. (Her) repeated requires help went unanswered because the guards urged her to get again on her mattress herself. She tried to get their consideration, however was ignored,” Wayomi Rathnayake advised CNN.
Sure sections had been edited, suggesting officers had been hiding the reality, she stated.
“What I noticed on the clips upset me a lot that I felt like there was a lot worse to be seen.”
The sisters finally noticed longer clips of unedited video in October.
They confirmed employees making an attempt to feed Rathnayake, though she could not maintain something down. And on the day earlier than she died, employees did not telephone an ambulance, at the same time as she failed to answer their calls, stated Oie, the household’s lawyer.
The Immigration Companies Company report discovered Rathnayake had complained about abdomen ache and different signs for months earlier than her dying.
The report states she underwent medical examinations similar to urine evaluation, blood exams and chest X-rays to find out the reason for the issue.
Nevertheless, on the day she died, employees on the facility delayed calling emergency providers, at the same time as her situation appeared to deteriorate.
The report stated, within the months earlier than her dying, Rathnayake had been cooperating with immigration authorities, however her demeanor modified when she determined she needed to remain in Japan.
The report alleges supporters had advised her it will be extra seemingly she’d be positioned on provisional launch if she was sick — a declare detainees’ advocate Matsui refutes. Provisional launch permits detainees to reside locally whereas they await deportation.
Matsui stated he urged officers in January to both switch Rathnayake to hospital or give her provisional launch, so supporters might take her there themselves. One other request was made in February, when Rathnayake had change into so weak she might now not grasp a pen, in line with Matsui.
However these requests had been refused with no causes given, Matsui stated.
Yoichi Kinoshita, a former immigration official, who now runs a non-profit looking for to reform the nation’s immigration system, says guards appeared to dismiss her complaints.
“It is seemingly that some folks working within the detention facility might have thought she was exaggerating her signs as a result of she needed to get out on provisional launch,” Kinoshita stated.
Overhauling a dysfunctional system
Final month, Rathnayake’s sisters filed a prison grievance towards senior officers at Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau alleging willful negligence. Whereas the sooner immigration investigation discovered deficiencies throughout the system, it didn’t set up why she died — and who’s responsible, in line with Oie, her household’s lawyer.
Thus far, the household’s marketing campaign for justice has had small however important wins for different folks caught within the system.
“The immigration company has never proven a video to a household earlier than and the pinnacle of the immigration company did not apologize for detainee deaths both — that is all a primary,” stated Kinoshita.
He says extra oversight is required of the company that controls each side of a detainee’s destiny.
“The immigration bureau controls every thing from the visas for foreigners, their detention and deportation and their provisional launch. There must be a 3rd social gathering to supply a unique perspective, and that could possibly be the courtroom,” he stated.
The Immigration Companies Company has proposed some modifications following Rathnayake’s dying.
Within the August report, it stated it will look to strengthen the medical care provided at immigration detention amenities and probably enable sick detainees to be briefly freed.
It additionally floated plans to judge the conduct of immigration officers, together with allegations by detainee advocates.
For Rathnayake’s sisters, the psychological pressure of combating for justice has taken its toll.
Wishma’s youthful sister Wayomi, 29, returned to Sri Lanka in late October owing to psychological stress brought on by watching the footage of her sister in detention.
However for Poornima Rathnayake, who has stayed in Japan, the combat goes on.
“We would like these chargeable for Wishma’s dying to be held accountable as a result of we hope this type of premature dying will not ever occur to anybody once more,” she stated.
“Tomorrow it could possibly be another person’s brother, sister, pal, mom or father.”
Journalist Seiji Tobari contributed to this report from Tokyo.