Japan to start a pilot resettlement programme

Briefing Notes, 19 December 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 December 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

High Commissioner António Guterres is concluding his fifth official visit to Japan. During a meeting with Prime Minister Taro Aso, an announcement was made that Japan will be introducing a pilot resettlement programme to accept Myanmar refugees in Thailand beginning in 2010. This will make Japan the first country in the region to introduce a resettlement programme. The High Commissioner welcomed the announcement and said this historic step reaffirms Japan's leadership role in the humanitarian arena.

"Quality comes before quantity. Success is essential," Mr. Guterres said of the pilot resettlement programme. "I am glad that Japan is starting with a small programme. As such, I am confident that the pilot project will develop and expand into a regular and large programme."

During his two-day mission in Tokyo, the High Commissioner also expressed his gratitude to the Government of Japan for its many years of support for UNHCR. In 2008, Japan contributed more than US$110 million to UNHCR programmes worldwide. The High Commissioner expressed his appreciation for this continued commitment to support UNHCR's activities in the face of the deepening international economic crisis.

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António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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

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Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

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