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