Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the death of Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali last spring at an immigration detention center in Nagoya. As pointed out by Tokyo Shimbun reporter Isoko Mochizuki, Wishma originally went to the authorities because she was trying to escape a fellow Sri Lankan immigrant who she said was abusing her. The immigration officials who dealt with her case essentially ignored the domestic violence assertion and treated her as an overstayer, and Mochizuki’s reporting, not to mention lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki’s comments on the matter, suggest that detention center staff tend to be fixated on preventing detainees from being released at any cost, regardless of the reason for their detention or any attendant circumstances. Because that’s the overriding protocol, they didn’t even consider justice ministry guidelines regarding foreign nationals who claim to be the victims of domestic violence.
However, there is perhaps another, subtler reason for their neglect, which is that domestic violence itself is not treated very seriously. Wishma originally went to a local police box for help, telling them of the abuse she suffered, and their response was to hand her over to immigration services. There is no indication that they investigated her claim, even in Mochizuki’s rather detailed reports. In fact, one of the big mysteries in this case is what exactly happened to this Sri Lankan man. Supposedly, Wishma changed her mind about returning to Sri Lanka after she received threatening letters from him. As Mochizuki points out, all letters received by detainees are screened by staff, so if they read the letters themselves, they would have realized that Wishma’s claims deserved attention. But, again, how did the man know where to send the letters, and where did he send them from? There is another passage in Mochizuki’s report that said Wishma would often spend free time on the roof of the facility, but stopped going there at one point because she was afraid of running into the man, which implies she thought he was in the same building. Was he also being detained? Was Wishma delusional? In any case, Wishma’s supporters say that a central factor in the deterioration of her mental state was that the staff didn’t take her fears at face value. Domestic violence often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is exacerbated if nobody believes you were a victim of abuse. The justice ministry seems to have formulated domestic violence guidelines in an environment where DV is not properly defined and its ramifications not fully understood.
Where can one read such “guidelines” (in Japanese)? I seem to have had a reverse problem: mild-mannered husband (over-criticized by me who mistook the degrading of one’s I-group in Japanese culture) was taken for a Westernized man of violence without basis, making us both too nervous. Far from being drawn into the Immigration Bureau, I found it hard even to telephone the Ministry of Justice from a phone booth once after I felt I had been driven out with “power HARA” [though I misunderstood that half-English word]. The issues of us “halflings” who are neither Western nor fully Japanized are difficult to deal with, I am sure! Of course, this reflects the gulf between a permanent resident visa (albeit seeming to depend on one’s native spouse) and any illegal status. If non-Japanese are given more work and residence options since former PM Abe’s administration (as seems likely to me, in view of the COVID19’s ill effect on our already dwindling population), such grim alternatives as faced the Shri Lankan woman (who took refuge in the Immigration office only to end up fearing the deportation she seemed at first to seek) may recede into history books.