Myanmar families take first steps


The air was filled with hope and warmth as the five families from Myanmar who are in Japan on the third-country resettlement program met with visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees chief Antonio Guterres last month in Tokyo.

“This is the first group that resettles in Japan . . . and we all want your integration in Japanese society to be a success,” Guterres told the families. “And when I look at your children, I hope that they will become doctors or engineers, that they can really have a wonderful future in this country.”

Guterres, who had been a strong advocate for Japan to start the resettlement program, was in Tokyo last month for the first time since the families arrived from Thailand in September and October.

A total of 27 family members of ethnic Karen ranging from young children to adults were selected by the Japanese government from the Mera refugee camp at the Thailand-Myanmar border.

The Mera camp is the temporary home to 50,000 refugees, most of whom fled Myanmar because of the armed conflict between the military junta and Karen National Union rebels.

“You have suffered a lot . . . and I know how difficult it has been for all of you. The conditions of the camp were also not so good and I hope that finally you will find a new home,” Guterres said.

Since their arrival, the families — including the children — have been undergoing intensive training to learn the Japanese language and daily-life skills like using electronic goods and flush toilets. The training, which ends next spring, has kept the families extremely busy getting ready for their new lives in Japan.

One of the fathers spoke on behalf of the five families, expressing their gratitude to the government.

“We are truly grateful for being welcomed to Japan and we would like to express our appreciation to the Japanese government for its various support, including the resettlement training program,” he said.