UNHCR chief praises Japan’s willingness to address ‘most serious refugee crisis since ’90s’

by

Staff Writer

While praising Japan’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid, visiting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Monday the ongoing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh is the “most serious refugee crisis since the ’90s.”

At the same time, however, Grandi asked Japan to improve its strict refugee examination process, which has often come under international criticism.

“If you look at the speed” at which Rohingya refugees are fleeing Myanmar, “if you look at the violence that (the refugees) have endured before crossing the border, especially women and children, and if you look at the magnitude, the immensity of the needs in Bangladesh . . . I think this is the most serious refugee crisis since the ’90s,” Grandi told a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

He was visiting Japan for the third time as UNHCR head.

The Rohingya crisis was the center of discussions “with the foreign minister, Foreign Ministry officials and JICA (the Japan International Cooperation Agency),” he said.

Grandi said during his recent trip he was reassured that Japan’s humanitarian response, including the JICA’s developing intervention in Bangladesh, “would continue as long as necessary.”

On Oct. 17, Tokyo pledged $18.6 million in aid to help ease the Rohingya crisis, a day ahead of Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s visit to Bangladesh.

Top U.N. officials have denounced the Rohingya crisis as a “classic example of ethnic cleansing.”

Following clashes between the country’s military and Rohingya insurgents in October 2016, the Myanmar Army began a major crackdown, prompting tens of thousands of Rohingya migrants to flee to neighboring Bangladesh and other nations.

According to UNHCR, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, when renewed insurgent attacks triggered a ferocious military response.

Commenting on the Aug. 25 attacks in Myanmar, Foreign Press Secretary Norio Maruyama said in a statement in late August that they are “utterly unacceptable.”

During his recent visit, Grandi also held meetings with Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, during which he discussed Japan’s refugee examination process conducted by the Immigration Bureau.

Kamikawa said in August that she has no specific plans to expand Japan’s intake of refugees.

In 2016, 10,901 people applied for refugee status, up 44 percent from the year before, according to the Justice Ministry.

Despite the jump in applications, Japan accepted just 28 refugees, an increase of just one person on the previous year.

Grandi, however, described Kamikawa as “open to cooperation,” and added that the Japan branch of the UNHCR is working closer than ever before with the ministry.

According to reports, the Justice Ministry plans to conduct preliminary screenings of prospective refugee applicants to weed out those who see Japan simply as a place to come and work. Reports also say the ministry wants to end the practice of allowing asylum seekers to start working here six months after filing applications.

Grandi advised by saying: “In making the system more efficient, don’t decrease its quality (and) its accuracy.”

“It’s important that every claim be assessed in its own merit very accurately. You don’t want to dismiss the claim which is valid and expose this person to the risk of being sent back home,” he said.

During the news conference, UNHCR also announced the appointment of Japanese rock guitarist Takamasa Ishihara, better known as Miyavi, as a national goodwill ambassador.