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Myanmar refugees arrive via U.N. resettlement plan

Kyodo

Four families from Myanmar arrived Friday night in Tokyo on a pilot U.N. refugee resettlement program introduced in fiscal 2010.

The families are from ethnic minorities in Myanmar and had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand, across the border. After a 180-day vocational and Japanese-language training program in Tokyo, the 18 family members will decide on their employment options and where they would like to settle.

They appeared tired but relieved upon arriving at Narita International Airport on a flight from Bangkok.

One of the refugees, a 36-year-old who arrived with his wife and child, said he spent seven years in a refugee camp. He said he appreciated the warm reception and that he hopes to find work after studying Japanese.

The United Nations’ third-country resettlement program seeks to relocate people who have fled their home country to a nearby state. Japan set an annual quota of receiving 30 refugees from Myanmar and extended the period to five years from three.

However, the government only accepted 45 refugees in total during the first two years of the program, and none last year.

The underwhelming interest apparently stems from potential participants being unaware of the living and working conditions they can expect in Japan, as well as the terms of resettlement.

Some experts have also pointed out the lack of preparation and coordination by Tokyo. The government will need to examine whether to advance from the pilot program to a full-fledged system, they said.