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UNHCR welcomes Japan's new study on resettlement

News Stories, 28 November 2007

© Japan for UNHCR
High Commissioner António Guterres (centre) takes part in a rally in Tokyo's Omotesando district aimed at raising awareness about refugee issues.

TOKYO, Japan, November 28 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres flew out of Tokyo on Wednesday after welcoming the launch of a Japanese government study into the possibility of becoming a resettlement country.

Guterres, making his third official visit to Japan since becoming High Commissioner in 2005, was referring to the establishment last September of a panel involving 11 ministries and agencies to consider a resettlement programme for refugees who cannot return to their home countries or integrate into the society of host countries.

Guterres was told about the special study group during meetings with Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura and Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who reportedly made no promises or a time frame for when a resettlement programme would be introduced. Japan would be the first country in Asia to resettle refugees.

"I think I said two years ago when I came to Japan that the system was still embryonic," the High Commissioner was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency. "It is clear now that the system has grown, has improved and is moving in the right direction."

Guterres reportedly cited the removal of time limits for application for refugee status, the establishment of an appeal mechanism, and improvement in decision-making transparency as among the improvements he has seen in Japan over the past two years. Japan currently has stringent refugee recognition requirements.

Saburo Takizawa, UNHCR representative in Japan, said the visit of the High Commissioner, who arrived in Japan on Monday, had helped to further strengthen ties between the refugee agency and Japan, one of its most important donors.

The Japanese government recently announced that it was donating an extra US$4 million to help protect and assist Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan. It has also recently donated relief items for displaced people in Sudan's Darfur region.

During his visit, Guterres also met with former High Commissioner Sadako Ogata, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and partners from civil society. He addressed a symposium for business leaders and took part in a rally in Tokyo's chic Omotesando district aimed at raising awareness about refugee issues.

By Yuki Moriya in Tokyo, Japan

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UNHCR country pages

Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

2006 Nansen Refugee Award

All photos courtesy of Fuji Optical Co. Ltd.

The UN refugee agency has named Japanese optometrist Dr. Akio Kanai as the winner of the 2006 Nansen Refugee Award. Dr. Kanai has worked for more than two decades to improve the quality of life of over 100,000 uprooted people around the world by testing their eyes and providing them with spectacles.

Dr. Kanai, himself forcibly displaced from the northern Pacific island of Sakhalin at the end of World War Two, started his humanitarian work in 1983 in Thailand with Indochinese refugees. In 1984, he first worked with UNHCR and has conducted more than 24 missions to help uprooted people in Nepal, Thailand, Azerbaijan and Armenia. He has donated optometry equipment and more than 108,200 pairs of spectacles, made cash grants and trained local medical staff.

Dr Kanai, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Fuji Optical, has also rallied his family and staff to participate in Fuji Optical's Vision Aid missions. Some 70 employees have taken part, working in refugee camps during their holidays.

2006 Nansen Refugee Award

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlementPlay video

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlement

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehousePlay video

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehouse

An Iraqi man who turned down resettlement to the U.S. in 2006 tells how it feels now to be a "refugee" in his own country, in limbo, hoping to restart life in another Iraqi city.
Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.