Millions of Japanese expected to tune in to TV drama about UNHCR

News Stories, 27 May 2009

© Courtesy of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation)
In a TV drama, a UNHCR worker played by actress Kazue Fukiishi gets a call that her former husband may have been attacked while working in Afghanistan.

TOKYO, Japan, 27 May (UNHCR) Will the dynamic, unusually outspoken Japanese UNHCR office worker Rika win the heart of the handsome American aid worker Ed? Or will he head back to the field to help refugees in Africa?

Japanese public TV broadcaster NHK is betting millions of viewers will tune in to a new drama over the next five weeks to find out and in the process learn a lot about the UN refugee agency and refugees in Japan as well as around the world.

Beginning this Saturday and running through July 4, the period straddling World Refugee Day, the drama "Plastic Sheeting in the Wind" will be broadcast in prime time on Saturday nights. The drama is based on an award-winning novel of the same name, with acting revolving around UNHCR's Tokyo office, recreated in astonishing detail on a film set in the suburbs of Tokyo.

The main character is a fictional public information assistant named Rika Kudo, played by up-and-coming Japanese actress Kazue Fukiishi.

"I knew about refugee issues from TV news, especially on emergencies, but it was something that I would see as people suffering somewhere far away on the other side of the globe" says Fukiishi, reflecting a widely-held Japanese view.

"During the course of acting as UNHCR staff, I came to know much more about the people who are forced to flee and that there are refugees in Japan and that there is UNHCR a name slightly difficult for a normal Japanese to pronounce -in Japan, trying to make people's lives much better," she added.

Rika, the ambitious lead character, enters the UN with high hopes of using her job as public information assistant as a stepping stone to improve the world. To her surprise, she falls in love with and marries a UNHCR protection officer, only to part with him after he is reassigned to Sudan. Rika finds fulfillment and gains confidence in herself as she overcomes obstacles and hardships.

The story highlights the opportunities and challenges asylum seekers and refugees face in Japan, as well as the often difficult life of refugees in crowded refugee camps around the world. The dangers facing humanitarian staff working in conflict zones are also dramatically brought home in the series.

On World Refugee Day, June 20, the actors and NHK film crew will join UNHCR and partners in a symposium at United Nations University in Tokyo, site of the real UNHCR office. Under the theme of "No Home, Yes Hope," the actors and directors will talk about how they felt dealing with refugee issues to an audience that is expected to include viewers of "Plastic Sheeting in the Wind."

Japan has been an important supporter of refugees since the major Indochinese influx in the late 1970s and now is UNHCR's third-largest donor. Last year Japan announced that it will become the first Asian country to accept refugees for resettlement under a pilot programme due to start in 2010.

By Yuki Moriya in Tokyo, Japan

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UNHCR country pages

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

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The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

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