-Support for Indochinese Refugees and Convention Refugees-
After the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975, political persecution in the Indochinese Peninsula caused refugees to travel overland, or many to escape by boat, becoming “boat people”. Soon after, these boat people started to come to Japan by drifting into its territorial waters or by being rescued on the high seas. However, Japan, which had no domestic legal infrastructure to accept refugees, was only able to permit temporary landing subject to them having to leave for a third country, and was struggling to deal with the ever increasing surge in the numbers seeking refuge.
On February 14, 1978, FWEAP’s then President Seisuke Okuno, who was also a member of the House of Representatives, asked the following question of the Government at the meeting of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives: “Japan has established itself as a major economic power. If such a country does not take a humanitarian stance, it will lose the trust of the world. Cooperation means not only to share profits but also to share sacrifice. In its future, Japan will encounter various destinies, but it must absolutely avoid losing the heart of Asia. If there is any country in difficulty or trouble in Asia, we should not divert our eyes. Instead, I believe an attitude to share the burden of hardship is important. ” He continued, “I am not calling for the immediate acceptance of vast numbers from different ethnic groups, but I do think that the government should accept at least those people who have special relationships with Japan and allow them to settle here for the time being.”
This humanitarian plea of FWEAP President Okuno in the Budget Committee elicited the governmental decision to permit Indochinese refugees’ settlement in Japan. It was a bold political decision at a time when Japan had not yet joined the Refugee Convention and the laws concerning refugees had not yet been enacted. (Later, in June 1981, Japan ratified the “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” which took effect from January 1, 1982. The “Immigration Control Act” was revised to become the “Immigration Control and Refugee-Recognition Act,” which became effective on the same day.) In November 1979, the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs made a formal request to undertake the work of settlement of Indochinese Refugees to the Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People (FWEAP). This led to the establishment of the Refugee Assistance Headquarters (RHQ) under the Foundation on October 1, 1979.
For the 40 years since then, public concern for refugees has accelerated worldwide. FWEAP is currently implementing settlement operations for the Convention refugees and the third-country resettled refugees. Mr. Okuno’s remarks at that Budget Committee meeting became the foundation’s philosophy. We try to work hard to ensure that those refugees who have settled here feel “fortunate for having come here and to be living in Japan”.
Settlement Support Program
To smoothly advance refugee settlement in Japan, a number of difficulties must be overcome. In the RHQ support center, we provide both the Japanese language learning program and the guidance program for assimilation into Japanese society for half a year. For those who have completed the programs, we then find them good housing and jobs, and help them becom self-sufficient. (Photo: President Fujiwara at RHQ Support Center)
Taking Care of Refugees after the Settlement Support Program
After settlement, refugees encounter many problems, including a wide range of administrative procedures, medical care, lifestyle disparities with the second and third generations, and domestic problems. To that end, it is important to provide ongoing friendly and flexible refugee counseling services for daily life. (Photo: Japanese Language Education)
Holding "The Festival for Settled Refugees in Japan"
In order for settled refugees to be able to live a secure life, an opportunity to promote a broader understanding by the general public is important, so that their jobs are assured and local communities accept them more. We give an award to and encourage those refugees who have taken roots in the community and built an exemplary life. We also award certificates of appreciation to those who have provided help via their employment of refugees and have provided support to enable their independence. (Photo: "Festival for Settled Refugees in Japan" at the Shinjuku Cultural Center of Shinjuku Ward, Shinjuku, Tokyo)
Commemorative Planting by Settled Refugees
In order to retain the memories of the International Relief Center, where many Indochinese refugees received settlement support programs before settling in Japan, refugee volunteers and involved parties planted a tree in the park adjacent to the Center. The inscription is engraved, "In gratitude for the Indochinese refugees' settlement program in Japan". (Photo: The late President, Seisuke Okuno, holding a shovel during the planting ceremony at the Minato-gaoka Pier Park, in Yashio, Shinagawa, Tokyo in 2006)
【Projects of the Refugee Assistance Headquarters (RHQ)】
・Variety of projects for refugee support, in order to promote settlements of the third-country resettled refugees, Convention refugees (refugee settlers) and Indochinese refugees
・A number of projects to provide assistance to refugee applicants, as well as public relations and enlightenment activities
・Settlement supportive programs for Convention and other refugees such as Japanese language education and life guidance, finding jobs and work adjustment training services.
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