Four families from Myanmar comprising 18 people arrived Friday evening in Tokyo on a pilot refugee resettlement program Japan introduced in fiscal 2010.
The families are of ethnic minorities in Myanmar, including Karen. They had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand across Myanmar's border. After going through a 180-day program in Tokyo for vocational training and Japanese language study, they will decide on their employment options and where to settle.
After arriving at Narita airport on a flight from Bangkok, the refugees seemed tired but looked relieved at the sight of their Japanese hosts.
A 36-year-old man spent seven years in a refugee camp before coming to Japan with his wife and a child. He said he appreciated the warm welcome and expressed wishes to take up work after studying Japanese.
The so-called third country resettlement program seeks to relocate people who have fled their home country to a nearby country. Japan set an annual quota of 30 refugees from Myanmar and extended the program's period to five years from three.
Japan only accepted a total of 45 such people in the first two years of the program and received none last year.
The underwhelming interest apparently stems from potential participants not being fully aware of the conditions they can expect in Japan, including the terms of resettlement. Tokyo may need to examine whether it moves on from a pilot to a full-fledged program.