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2009年1月13日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 6(IHT/Asahi: January 7,2009)

EDITORIAL: Accepting refugees


The time has come for Japan to shed what the world views as its reluctance to accept refugees.


Preparations will start this spring to begin accepting, from fiscal 2010, refugees from Myanmar (Burma) who are currently in Thailand. This is part of a third-country resettlement program for displaced people in foreign refugee camps with no prospects of repatriation.


Japan will try out this program on a provisional basis for three years, taking a step toward opening its doors wider to refugees. We would very much like this program to become permanent. The United Nations welcomes this move--the first in Asia--and is hoping that Japan will be a model for the region.


There are 11.5 million refugees worldwide who have fled persecution in their home countries. Of these, about 6 million people have been living in refugee camps for five years or longer. Children who have never lived outside refugee camps are increasing in number. There is no question that their prolonged stays in refugee camps aggravate these people's already miserable living conditions.


However, few countries welcome refugees. At present, less than 20 Western and other nations accept refugees under the third-country resettlement program, to which Japan will be the latest addition.


In Japan's case, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees will provide a list of prospective people hoping to be resettled, and Japanese government representatives will interview these refugees at their camps in Thailand.


But only 30 refugees will be accepted a year, which brings the three-year total to 90. Thorough screening is obviously necessary, but we think the number is too small. Ideally, refugees should be accepted in large enough numbers to allow them to establish their own community, so that they can help one another and will not feel isolated from the rest of society as they try to familiarize themselves with their new environment.


Carefully drawn plans are needed to receive people who are from cultures that are different from our own. Cooperation from everyone in the neighborhood community where refugees settle is crucial. Local governments, businesses and schools must join forces to help their new neighbors learn Japanese, find jobs and send their children to school. The economic situation is tough, but they deserve a warm welcome.


Japan became a signatory to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1981. As of 2007, however, only 451 people had been recognized as refugees by the Japanese government. Because of the strictness of the screening process, the nation's refugee policy has been criticized as isolationist.


But the number of applications for refugee status in Japan has surged in the last few years, growing to about 1,500 last year. The number of recognized refugees has risen, too, and in some cases, those who could not be recognized as refugees under the U.N. Refugee Convention were nevertheless permitted to stay in the country out of humanitarian considerations.


After the Vietnam War, Japan accepted refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Some of these Indochinese refugees have since become successful doctors and business people.


Like Albert Einstein, who immigrated to the United States for political reasons, refugees can make invaluable contributions to their adopted countries.


We should welcome refugees from abroad as our new neighbors. We hope this will be the first small step on the way toward Japan's growth into an open society.



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