A leading lobby group for the interests of refugees in Japan has urged the government to take in more asylum seekers from Syria, as many countries — including some poor nations — have agreed to do.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, lawyer Shogo Watanabe, a representative of the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees, said the nation should play a proactive role in accepting refugees to address human rights and humanitarian issues directly.

“In terms of geographical standpoints, refugees may not want to come to Japan, but still, for example, New Zealand has announced its plan for 850 resettlements,” Watanabe said. He was citing a figure released by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Many countries worldwide have offered their hands to accept the refugees, so there is no way that Japan cannot do that,” Watanabe said.

The UNHCR says nations outside Europe that have offered resettlement include Australia, which pledges to take in 5,600 Syrians, and Uruguay, at 120.

Watanabe said it is essential that Japan actively accept refugees and help to stabilize the situation in Syria and the region in terms of building up security in the international community.

“By accepting refugees, the Japanese public can gain more understanding of the situation in Syria and the Middle East,” Watanabe said. “It also can send a message to the world that Japan is extending a helping hand to those who are really in need.”

Watanabe noted that Japan maintains high criteria for recognizing refugees, and as a result only a very small number of people obtain the status.

It accepted only 11 refugees out of a record 5,000 applicants last year, Watanabe said. He added, Tokyo accepted only three of 63 Syrian applicants.

His comments were echoed by Yukie Osa, a Rikkyo University professor and president of the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, who underscored the importance of helping refugees with medical needs.

“Japan might accept refugees with disabilities who need special medical care, rehabilitation or physiotherapy, from a humanitarian standpoint,” Osa said.

Osa said many people overseas long for access to a nation like Japan where such medical treatment is possible.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged at the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Tokyo will provide 1.5 billion dollars in humanitarian aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people as well as broader stabilization efforts in the Middle East and Africa.

However, speaking later in the day at a news conference, Abe did not say clearly whether Japan would accept any actual refugees from Syria.

Asked about the possibility of that, Abe replied that Japan should first address its domestic challenges.

“As an issue of demography, there are many things we have to do before accepting migrants. We need to have more activities by women, by the elderly, and there are many measures to carry out to raise the birthrate,” Abe said.

He added: “At the same time, regarding the refugee issues, Japan will carry out its own responsibility.”

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