4月15日付けのヘラルド朝日に、3月21日付け朝日新聞に掲載された、難民支援協会事務局長代行・石井宏明の「私の視点」への投稿「『第三国定住』試行を生かせ」の英訳版が掲載されました。題は、"Japan's refugee system must be overhauled"となっております。
Japan's refugee system must be overhauled
Acting Secretary General,
Japan Association for Refugees
Last year, 1,388 people applied for refugee status with the Japanese government. While only 30 were recognized as refugees under the U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, an additional 501 people, the largest number ever, were granted residence status for humanitarian reasons. The number of refugees coming to Japan is expected to keep growing.
In addition to these people, about 30 Burmese will arrive in Japan this year from a Thai refugee camp. They will be the first group of refugees to be accepted under the newly established third-country resettlement system. The program transfers refugees who cannot settle in the countries where they initially sought shelter to those that can accommodate them.
Japan will accept 90 Burmese over three years in its pilot program. Its participation is attracting international attention. It is seen by some as a manifestation of Japan's positive attitude toward refugee protection. In order to make this first step more substantial and to strengthen Japan's role in refugee protection as a whole, I wish to make the following proposals:
First, the debate on refugee policy should be more open. In December 2008, a Cabinet meeting acknowledged the plan to accept refugees under the third-country resettlement program. The policymaking before and after that decision was done entirely within the government. The heart-felt voices of the refugees and the opinions of support groups are not reflected in the current decision-making process.
Second, if the third-country resettlement program is on an experimental basis, the government should clearly declare what indicators will be used to assess its success or failure. It is unclear what the program's goals are and what would be considered a "successful" result for the refugees and for Japanese society. If these points are left ambiguous, it will be difficult to learn lessons and to improve refugee policies in the future based on the results of the project.
Third, stark differences in the treatment of two groups--people who come to Japan and apply for refugee status on their own and those accepted under the third-country resettlement system--should be eliminated.
Resettling refugees are selected by the Japanese government from among people recognized by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as refugees requiring protection. They are not granted official refugee status under the convention, but are eligible for many kinds of public support, including medical coverage, employment, housing and language education. This is allowed for six months immediately after their arrival in Japan.
The support given to refugees who come to Japan on their own is poor by comparison. In the case of those admitted out of humanitarian consideration, the government provides no support whatsoever for their settlement. During the application screening process, which lasts more than two years on average, refugee applicants are usually not permitted to subscribe to the national health insurance system and the majority of them are not allowed to work.
Last year, public financial assistance for more than 100 applicants for refugee status was temporarily suspended. Some of them became so destitute that they could not even buy milk to feed their children. Some became homeless. Moreover, the recent increase in the detention of applicants, including minors, is causing growing anxiety among them.
Japan must squarely face the difficulties experienced by the great majority of refugees and properly deal with them. Despite the preferential treatment given to a limited number of refugees, Japan will not be able to live up to the international community's expectations on it if it fails to do so.
It is time to begin an open and fundamental debate about the nation's refugee system.