I. Significance of Assisting Refugees and Japan's Posture

  1. Ethnic and religious conflicts, which had been confined under the Cold War, surfaced and sent the number of refugees in the world soaring in the 1990s. The total figure of refugees and internally displaced persons under the protection and assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) once peaked at around 30 million in 1995. Since then, the number of such people has been whittled away by developments including the winding-down of the Indo-Chinese refugee problem and the repatriation of a large number of Mozambican and Rwandan refugees. Nevertheless, large-scale problems of refugees and internally displaced persons emerged in 1999 in Kosovo, East Timor and then in Iraq, Sudan, PRC,etc. The number of refugees and internally displaced persons still reached approximately 42.30 million as of 2009.
  2. Refugees and internally displaced persons around the world continue to be not only of humanitarian concern but also involve issues that could undermine the peace and stability of the concerned regions and the entire world. From the perspective of human security, Japan places humanitarian assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons as an important pillar of its international contributions. In this context, Japan provides active support through international organizations such as UNHCR, UNRWA, World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and International Organization for Migration (IOM). In addition, the Government also extends support to Japanese NGOs engaged in humanitarian assistance, and has formulated various measures to expand and improve support for Japanese NGOs to enable their faster mobilization in the field. Japan intends to continue seeking solutions to the problems of refugees, maintaining close cooperation with the relevant international organizations and NGOs.
  3. Solutions to the problems of refugees require not only humanitarian assistance but also support toward prevention of conflicts and regional stabilization to protect returnees from being displaced again. Therefore, efforts toward conflict prevention need to be strengthened and, moreover, it is important to ensure the smooth transition from emergency humanitarian relief to post-conflict rehabilitation assistance and then to full-scale development aid. Additionally, since refugee assistance operations are frequently threatened by incidents such as the killing of international organizations' staff members, ensuring the safety of humanitarian personnel is a crucial issue in terms of providing refugee assistance.

II. Acceptance of Refugees by Japan

1. Indo-Chinese Refugees (originating from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia)

(1) International Arrangements for Indo-Chinese Refugees

The outflow of Indo-Chinese refugees, which broke out in 1975, peaked at 390,000 in 1979 and then declined until the stream of boat people caused an acute increase at the end of 1988. "The International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees" held in Geneva in June 1989 against such a background adopted the "Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA)," which aimed at tackling this problem under an international framework. The CPA called for introducing a screening system to determine the refugee status of boat people, accelerating voluntary repatriation of those determined to be non-refugees, and promoting the resettlement of those recognized as refugees in third countries.

After the adoption of the CPA, the outflow of boat people sharply declined, confirming that the CPA attained a certain amount of success. Even so, among the Vietnamese who flowed into ASEAN countries, asylum seekers who had been determined to be non-refugees but did not return and protracted refugees who could not find receiving countries still remained. To solve this problem, the 5th meeting of the Conference's steering committee held in February 1994 adopted a communique: (a) terminating measures under the CPA by the end of 1995, and (b) abolishing the screening procedure based on the CPA as of February 1994 and thereafter handling refugees by domestic law and "internationally accepted" practices. (Accordingly, Japan decided to repeal the screening procedure as of March 5, 1994.)

The proposed termination of the CPA by the end of 1995 was reconfirmed at the 6th meeting of the steering committee held in March 1995. Furthermore, the 7th meeting of the steering committee held in March 1996 adopted a communique that: (a) the only option for Vietnamese determined to be non-refugees was to return through voluntary repatriation or orderly repatriation program, (b) the CPA would formally come to an end as of June 30, 1996, and (c) the UNHCR would continue its support for reintegration and monitoring activities in the countries of origin. Thus, the CPA was brought to an end.

(2) Japan's Efforts toward Settlement of the Indo-Chinese Refugee Issue

(a) As one of the main countries of Asia, Japan has accepted Indo-Chinese refugees in accordance with the CPA, as shown below, from a humanitarian standpoint and to contribute to the peace and stability of Southeast Asia.

  • Acceptance of Residents: 11,319 persons, from 1978 to 2005

(b) Outline of acceptance of residents

  1. The Government dispatches screening missions to refugee camps in Southeast Asia and, after an interview, permits qualified refugees to reside in Japan.
  2. The Government allows refugees already residing in Japan to legally invite their family members from their countries of origin to Japan through the ODP (Orderly Departure Program). The ODP ended in March 2004.
  3. The Government extends support for Japanese language education, social adaptation training, employment seeking and other activities in order to promote the integration of refugees into Japan at the International Refugee Assistance Center of the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, the Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People.

2. Recognition of Refugees

In response to the mass outflow of Indo-Chinese refugees in the first half of 1979, Japan acceded to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees on October 3, 1981, and then to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees on January 1, 1982. Each treaty came into force on the respective dates. In acceding to these treaties, Japan amended the Immigration Control Order to establish a recognition system for refugee status and changed the title to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, which came into force in January 1982.

Persons recognized as being refugees are given the same benefits under the social security system as provided to Japanese citizens and other foreign nationals. In addition, such persons enjoy protection relating to entry into, departure from, and staying in Japan.

In fiscal year 2003, the Government expanded the support to the convention refugees in order to promote their integration into Japan. The support is comparable to the one for Indo-Chinese refugees, including support for Japanese language education, social adaptation training, employment seeking and other activities at the International Refugee Assistance Center of the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, the Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People.

  • • Refugees recognized by Japan under the above-mentioned Convention and Protocol:
    577 persons, from 1982 to 2010

3. Pilot Resettlement Project

The Government of Japan has been taking measures to support the local integration of Indochinese refugees and the people recognized as refugees under the 1951 Convention. UNHCR encourages countries to admit refugees through a form of resettlement program under which refugees who have been granted temporary asylum in refugee camps and other locations are transferred to a third country. Resettlement is considered to be one of the durable solutions of refugee issues, together with other solutions such as voluntary repatriation and local integration in the first country of asylum. Also, the importance of resettlement is emphasized from the view point of burden sharing of refugee issues among the members of international community. In view of these international trends, Japan started to take the admission of Refugees through pilot resettlement project to respond to the refugee issues occurring in the Asia region.

(Implementation of a Pilot Resettlement Project in Japan)

The Government of Japan has agreed on a policy regarding the Implementation of the admission of refugees in Japan through a pilot resettlement project as per the Cabinet Agreement on December 16, 2008.

For the implementation of this policy, on December 19, 2008, the Inter-ministerial Coordination Council decided in detail arrangements of the trial admission, and specific plans for providing local integration support for refugees admitted in Japan through resettlement. The Government of Japan decided to admit approximately 30 people (consisting of families) once a year for 3 consecutive years (total: approximately 90 people in 3 years) from the fiscal year 2010 and the target refugees are Myanmarese refugees in the Mae La Camp in Thailand. In the fiscal year 2010, 5 families consisting of 27 refugees arrived in Japan and they started self-reliant life from March 2011 after the 180 day integration programme.


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