Sun, Dec 21, 2008 - Page 5 News List

UN refugee chief welcomes Japan shift on Myanmar

AFP , TOKYO

The UN refugee chief on Friday welcomed Tokyo’s decision to accept a handful of Myanmar refugees but called on the Asian economic giant to improve its assistance to asylum seekers.

“Japan is the first Asian country to adopt a resettlement program,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said. “This is indeed a very important symbolic measure.”

Japan said Thursday that it was ready to take about 30 Myanmar refugees who are living in camps on the border with Thailand. The announcement came as Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, met Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

While small by global standards, Guterres said he hoped it would pave the way for Japan — which only accepts dozens of refugees each year under strict conditions — to take in more people in future.

“For us what is important is quality,” he told reporters, adding that a successful integration would require helping the refugees learn the language and obtain jobs.

“Of course what is important is that this small program becomes a success and based on that Japan develops a more substantial resettlement program,” he said.

Guterres said he hoped the move would “also be symbolic of improvements in the general asylum policy of Japan.”

The UN refugee chief, who held talks with Japanese officials in charge of refugee recognition, said he focused on improving examinations that determine refugee status and on detention conditions.

Human rights groups have often criticized Japan for detaining rejected asylum seekers indefinitely.

About 1,000 people seek refugee status in Japan annually, a number that has doubled over the past few years.

The Refugee Assistance Headquarters, an auxiliary body under the foreign ministry, said it temporarily had to suspend financial aid for asylum seekers this month due to the growing number of applicants.

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