Japan NGOs want government to ease curbs on travel to conflict areas


Japan-based nongovernmental organizations engaged in humanitarian assistance have asked the government to ease restrictions on travel to conflict zones, NGO members said Sunday.

The NGOs argue that their activities are being hampered because the government treats their travel requests in the same way as those from regular travelers. Travel has become harder for NGO workers following hostage-taking incidents involving Japanese nationals in recent years.

An NGO representative made the request during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry on April 19 and in letters sent Wednesday to political parties.

Many of the NGOs receive public funding in exchange for complying with a variety of conditions set by the government that include abiding by the travel restrictions.

The NGOs have urged the government to differentiate the travel of their workers, who are experienced in operating in conflict zones such as South Sudan, from that of regular travelers.

But a senior ministry official said it is “hard to make a distinction between NGO and ordinary travelers,” adding it is difficult for the government to assess whether an NGO can fully ensure the safety of its workers.

In fiscal 2015, the ministry provided around ¥10 billion ($89.67 million) to 65 NGOs.

In Japan, there are around 50 to 80 NGOs chiefly involved in humanitarian assistance, such as helping refugees in conflict zones and victims of natural disasters.

The NGO members said travel has become more difficult for them since the January 2013 hostage crisis in Algeria, in which 10 Japanese were killed, and the killing of two Japanese hostages by Islamic State militants in Syria in 2015.

The government bans, in principle, travel to areas covered by the highest travel alert under Japan’s four-level system. Travel is now also more restricted to areas covered by the second-highest travel alert level.

In the case of South Sudan, for which a travel ban has been in place since December 2013, the NGOs had to leave and provide support from neighboring countries.