TOKYO - A Sri Lankan detainee died after collapsing at a detention centre in Japan, an official said Tuesday, the latest in a string of similar cases that critics say illustrates a shameful attitude to immigrants.
The body of Nickeles Fernando was found in his cell in Tokyo last month hours after he had complained of chest pains and begged for a doctor to be called, campaigners said.
His death came two days after a government probe into two deaths at another immigration centre found there was inadequate medical care.
A rights group called Provisional Release Association in Japan (PRAJ) said Fernando, 57, was ignored by guards when he asked for medical help.
"He had begun to complain about severe chest pain at about 7am on November 22, but instead of calling a doctor, immigration officials moved him from a shared cell into a single one," PRAJ member Hiromitsu Masuda told AFP.
After checking on Fernando several times during the morning and finding him in the same position, a Sri Lankan translator went into the cell at around 1pm, said fellow PRAJ member Mitsuru Miyasako.
"At that time his body was already cold and had no pulse," he said. "The translator called immigration officials, then for the first time they began to do something." "If it had been a Japanese person complaining of pain in his chest, this would never have happened." A spokeswoman at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau told AFP a detainee was moved to solitary for observation after feeling unwell.
"At about 1pm he stopped moving and didn't respond to our calls, so we called an ambulance while giving him cardiac massage," she said, adding he was confirmed dead two hours later.
She denied any unnecessary delay in summoning medical help.
'Japanese society indifferent'
A spokeswoman at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police told AFP an autopsy had been carried out, but refused to reveal its findings. She did not give a clear reason for her refusal.
Two days before Fernando's death, the justice ministry admitted another immigration centre at Ushiku northeast of Tokyo "did not have enough medical" facilities and failed to provide 24-hour access to in-house doctors.
That came after it investigated the March deaths of an Iranian man in his 30s who choked on food and a Cameroonian man in his 40s who was found unconscious in his cell.
In October last year, a Rohingya asylum-seeker collapsed and died at the Tokyo centre after staff failed to call for a medic, allegedly because the doctor was having lunch.
"Medical care in Japan's immigration system has long been a problem, but little improvement has been made," said labour union official Toru Sekimoto, who advises another rights group for immigrants and refugees.
"That's partly because Japanese society as a whole is indifferent to the issue.
"It would cause a social uproar if the same thing happened at a care home for elderly people in Japan," he said.
Japan tightly restricts the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers it accepts.
According to Justice Ministry figures for 2013, 3,260 people applied for asylum, many from Turkey, Nepal and Myanmar, as well as from countries in South Asia and Africa.
Japan accepted six refugees during the year, down from 18 in the previous year.