UNHCR hails Japan aid despite disaster, seeks help in crisis response
Publisher: Kyodo News, Japan
Author: by Maya Kaneko
Story date: 17/11/2011
Language: English

(English original text)

TOKYO, Nov. 17 Kyodo – Visiting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Thursday expressed appreciation for Japan's continued support for his organization despite the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated eastern and northeastern Japan, and sought Tokyo's help in preventing and responding to future natural disasters that displace people.

Speaking at a symposium to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Japan's accession to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Guterres thanked Japan for ''an extraordinary example of generosity'' at a time when the country itself suffered ''such a dramatic impact'' of the March calamity.

''Naturally when those things happen, I thought maybe Japan would start to look more in an inwards way,'' he said.

''The Japanese government, the Japanese parliament, the Japanese public opinion would think, 'This is the moment to think about our country and to forget about the needs of the rest of the world.' But it was not like that,'' the high commissioner said.

Guterres noted that the UNHCR office received from Japan major contributions in support of the organization's activities worldwide and praised the country for not attaching any strings to its humanitarian aid to secure ''narrow economic interests'' or address ''geostrategic concerns.''

As for ways to respond to future natural disasters that would be exacerbated by climate change, the former Portuguese premier said he expects Japan to share its abundant experience with early warning systems of tsunami and other phenomena.

He said people forcibly moved as a result of natural disasters are not clearly defined as refugees covered by the 1951 convention or typical economic migrants, underlining the need to devise steps to appropriately support them.

Referring to the possible negative impact on the world economy from the European debt crisis and a bleak outlook for the level of financial assistance from developed countries which are traditional donors, Guterres said the UNHCR office will cut administrative costs at its headquarters and try to secure alternative funding from the private sector as well as emerging economies.

But he warned against slashing humanitarian aid to refugees and those displaced by natural disasters, saying such an action would eventually stifle economic development in the world and increase political instability, raising the threat to global peace and security.

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