UNHCR urges Japan to draw on past experience for success of pilot program
Publisher: Kyodo News, Japan
Author: by Maya Kaneko
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

TOKYO, Nov. 18 Kyodo – Visiting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres urged Japan on Friday to draw on its own experience of accepting more than 11,000 Indochinese refugees in the past to achieve success in the current pilot resettlement project for Myanmar refugees.

Guterres said he believes the key to success for the three-year program that began in 2010 in Japan to accept a total of 90 Myanmar refugees from a camp in Thailand is ''a good coordination between the central government, local government and NGOs in order to allow for effective integration.''

Under the U.N.-promoted pilot scheme, a total of 45 Myanmar refugees who are members of ethnic Karen families have arrived in Japan. But some of the first group members have complained about poor working conditions and refused to work for a farm after finishing a 180-day government-funded support program that includes Japanese language study and job training.

Despite the difficulties faced by the Myanmar refugees on the resettlement program, Guterres said he is optimistic the project will be successful.

''There are always some difficulties, but let's also not forget that Japan has an experience of resettlement of refugees – tens of thousands of refugees from Indochina in the past,'' he said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

The high commissioner said experience ''can be very useful now'' in addressing challenges in the new resettlement program. Between 1978 and 2005, Japan accepted 11,319 refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

On the current state of Myanmar, which shifted to nominal civilian rule in March after decades of military control, Guterres said there is ''an important signal of change'' and that some Myanmar refugees have indicated their interest in eventually going back to the country if their safety is guaranteed.

The U.N. refugee agency ''will be supporting all those who are willing to go back'' and discuss with the Myanmar authorities ''in order to make sure that these people will not suffer any kind of prosecution,'' he said.

As for refugees from North Korea, the former Portuguese premier noted a ''challenging situation'' in China, adding that his organization has been in discussion with Beijing on the guarantees of protection for such refugees.

''The truth is that they are sent back to North Korea then they might suffer enormously,'' he said. ''And so we have been very strongly insisting for North Koreans not to be sent back against their will to their country of origin.''

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