An asylum-seeker collapsed and died after staff at a Japanese immigration center failed to call for a medic, allegedly because the doctor was having lunch, a pressure group said Thursday.
Anwar Hussin, a member of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group, fell ill shortly after he was detained on Oct 9, according to People’s Forum on Burma, a Japan-based NGO headed by a Japanese lawyer.
Citing the 57-year-old’s cousin, the group said Hussin had been complaining of a headache all morning and fell unconscious as he began eating lunch in his cell.
Fellow detainees—seven people of different nationalities—called for help because he was vomiting and having spasms, the NGO said.
Detention center staff rejected their requests that a doctor be called, saying Hussin was just “having a seizure” and that the duty medic was on his lunch break, the group said, citing detainees who had spoken to the dead man’s cousin.
A doctor was summoned 51 minutes after Hussin’s collapse, according to a timeline given to his cousin by the center.
Staff made an emergency call four minutes after the doctor’s arrival and 55 minutes after being made aware of the problem, the timeline showed.
Hussin died in hospital on Oct 14, it said.
A spokeswoman for the Tokyo Immigration Bureau said a man in his 50s from Myanmar died of subarachnoid haemorrhage—a stroke—after collapsing in the detention center, confirming the dates given by the pressure group.
But she declined to confirm or deny the claims made by the NGO over how long it took for the doctor to be called.
“We refrain from disclosing details because it concerns private matters,” said the spokeswoman.
“We are aware that some people have complained the man was neglected for some time,” she said, adding the bureau believes staff handled the case appropriately. She said officials had explained the situation to the man’s surviving family in Japan.
The People’s Forum on Burma, which supports democratization of Myanmar and aids refugees from the country when they arrive in Japan, disputes this.
“The bureau did not inform the family of (Hussin’s) hospitalization. It was learnt from other detainees,” said a spokeswoman.
Immigration officials gave few details until two days after Hussin’s death, the spokeswoman said, and then only when his cousin repeatedly pressed them.
Hussin came to Japan in 2006 and made two applications for asylum, both of which were rejected, according to the group, which said he was waiting for the result of his second appeal when he was detained.
The Rohingya—described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities—face travel restrictions, forced labor and limited access to health care and education in Myanmar, rights groups say.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Muslim Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
It was not immediately possible to independently verify the NGO’s claims over Hussin’s death.
But Shogo Watanabe, the lawyer who leads the NGO, said detention centers were frequently slower than they should be in emergency medical situations.
“This is the result when the country has failed to protect people who need to be protected,” he told AFP.
Hiroka Shoji, of Amnesty International Japan, said it was worrying that immigration staff apparently had power of veto over whether or not a sick detainee should see a doctor.
Japan tightly restricts the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers it accepts.
According to Justice Ministry figures for 2012, 2,545 people applied for asylum, of whom 368 were from Myanmar—the second largest nationality group after the Turkish.
Japan accepted 18 refugees during the year.
Human rights activists, lawyers and migrant communities in Japan have complained for years about harsh treatment by immigration officials and about conditions at detention centers.
A Ghanaian died in 2010 while he was being restrained allegedly by up to 10 immigration officials as they tried to deport him.
Rights activists have claimed he was gagged with a towel, recalling a similar but non-fatal case in 2004 when a female Vietnamese deportee was handcuffed, had her mouth sealed with tape and was rolled up in blankets.
(c) 2013 AFP