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Fund helps NPOs extend help to asylum-seekers

by Setsuko Kamiya

Nonprofit organizations that support refugees say the number of asylum-seekers coming to Japan this year is likely to reach 1,000 for the third year in a row.

Ever since the government adopted stricter criteria for providing financial support to asylum-seekers awaiting screening last spring, more and more are knocking on the doors of NPOs for help, according to the Japan Association for Refugees in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

“Unless the government creates a stronger safety net, the situation is not going to change for refugees here,” association spokeswoman Mihoko Kashima said.

Last year, the government said it will prioritize fund allocation to mothers with children and those who are seriously ill. But last April, the bar was raised even higher, especially for those whose applications were initially rejected and who reapplied for refugee status. The government now lends support only to those who are fighting their cases in court.

Even though the asylum-seekers qualify for aid, it takes two to four months before they can receive any money. During this time, they have no way to support themselves and have to rely on the generosity of their compatriots, according to JAR. Some of them develop health problems but do not have the resources to pay for expert medical attention, they said.

With donations received from The Japan Times Readers’ Charity Fund last year, JAR helped two families and two individuals, including a family from Sri Lanka, who were told they would have to wait at least four months before they could receive government support.

Meanwhile, Japan this year started accepting refugees through the third-country resettlement program initiated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

A total of 27 ethnic Karens from Myanmar who were living in Thailand arrived in Japan last fall and are currently receiving Japanese-language training as well as advice on how to adjust to a different lifestyle.

Ajia Yuko-no Ie (Friendly Asians Home), another NGO in Shinjuku Ward, said it is willing to support new arrivals by making use of its experience supporting Myanmar refugees and exchange students in difficult situations, including illness.

With help from the Readers’ Charity Fund last year, the group installed a computer and keyboard configured to handle the Burmese language and type Burmese script. Knowing they can get access to information, people from different ethnic backgrounds and political affiliations come to FAH, but the group maintains its political neutrality, according to FAH Director Kazuo Kimura.

“For Japan and Myanmar to establish a good relationship, it’s important that we help the Myanmar people here who are facing difficulties,” he said.

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