Asylum-seeker dies in Japan immigration centre while doctor is at lunch: NGO

TOKYO (AFP) - An asylum-seeker collapsed and died after staff at a Japanese immigration centre failed to call for help, allegedly because the doctor was having lunch, a pressure group said Thursday.

Mr 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 non-governmental organisation (NGO) headed by a Japanese lawyer.

Citing the 57-year-old's cousin, the group said Mr 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 centre staff rejected their requests that a doctor be called, saying Mr Hussin was just "having a seizure" and that the duty medic was on his lunch break, the group said, citing interviews with detainees.

A doctor was summoned 51 minutes after Mr Hussin's collapse, according to a timeline given to his cousin by the centre.

Staff made an emergency call four minutes after the doctor's arrival - 55 minutes after being made aware of the problem, the timeline showed.

Mr Hussin died in hospital on Oct 14, it said.

A spokesman for the Tokyo Immigration Bureau said a man in his 50s from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, died of subarachnoid haemorrhage - a stroke - after collapsing in the detention centre, 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 spokesman.

"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 democratisation 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) hospitalisation. It was learnt from other detainees," said a spokesman.

Immigration officials gave few details until two days after Mr Hussin's death, the spokesman said, and then only when his cousin repeatedly pressed them.

Mr 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.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the claims.

Japan places tight restrictions on the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers it accepts.

According to figures provided by the Justice Ministry, in 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.

The Rohingya - described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet - face travel restrictions, forced labour and limited access to healthcare 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.