Thursday, February 25, 2010

Japan to resettle Burma's refugees, Philippines

MANILA—Japan has taken the first steps to become the first Asian nation to resettle refugees from Burma, the United Nations’ Manila office said Wednesday, quoting a report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).

Japanese officials were scheduled to visit a refugee camp in northern Thailand to interview Burma's refugees who are set to start new lives in Japan, UNHCR said.

This move follows Japan’s December 2008 announcement that it will take in 90 people from Mae La camp as part of a three-year pilot project.

UNHCR selected refugees being interviewed this week based on how long they have been living in the camp, in some cases reaching two decades but with no other solution in sight.

“The final decisions as to whether they will be accepted for resettlement rests with Japan,” said agency spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

Barring any glitches, the first refugee family is expected to leave for Japan this September, with 30 refugees set to be resettled every year over three years.

Approximately 20,000 Burmese refugees have already left Mae La to begin new lives, forming part of the more than 55,000 refugees who have been resettled from the nine camps in Thailand since a large-scale program started in 2005. Most have departed for the United States, Australia, and Canada.

“We welcome the addition of Japan to the list of resettlement countries, not only for the important signal it sends to other Asian countries, but also as significant burden-sharing, helping Thailand find solutions for refugees from Myanmar who have been on its territory for more than 25 years,” Mahecic said.