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In 2017, JT readers helped aid refugees, educate children and preserve Laotian forests

by

Staff Writer

Donations made last year by readers of The Japan Times have been used to help asylum-seekers start a new life in Japan, to support the empowerment of female Syrian refugees, to offer basic education to children in the Philippines and to preserve Laotian forests.

In 2016, The Japan Times Readers’ Fund received ¥824,379, which was sent to four charity groups in Japan and the Philippines.

One of the groups was Japan Association for Refugees (JAR), a nonprofit based in Tokyo. The group used its ¥206,095 donation to support 13 asylum-seekers from six countries.

In one case, JAR provided ¥16,000 to temporarily help cover the living expenses of a male asylum-seeker from a Southeast Asian country who fled to escape persecution.

The man, who arrived in June, suffered eating and sleeping disorders, and often burst into tears during consultation as he remembered relatives and his experience of being imprisoned, according to JAR, which is now backing his quest for legal assistance and job training.

“When asylum-seekers arrive in Japan, they have around ¥30,000 with them, but it’s very easy to run out of ¥30,000 in Japan,” said Miyuki Nozu, a JAR spokeswoman.

Nozu said it’s not unusual for asylum-seekers to use up most of their savings by the time they reach JAR.

The group’s Shinjuku Ward base was filled with asylum-seekers in early December who were consulting with staff.

Last year, 10,901 people applied for refugee status in Japan, up 44 percent from the previous year’s 7,586, according to the Justice Ministry.

However, despite the jump in applications, Japan accepted just 28 refugees — an increase of only one from the year before.

Because of this situation, the number of asylum-seekers assisted by JAR has also been on the rise. In 2016, the organization conducted 3,142 consultations on asylum-seekers, compared to 1,973 in 2013.

Launched in 1999, the main objective of JAR is to help asylum-seekers start a new life in Japan. On top of helping asylum-seekers gain recognition by Japan as refugees, the organization provides job assistance. In January, JAR expanded its Japanese language program from 80 hours to 180 hours, hoping to give refugees a better chance of landing a job in Japan.

Nozu said that after completing the 60-day program, held every weekday for three hours, attendees will be matched with companies for a possible job.

Donations provided by The Japan Times readers were also given to organizations that support people living outside of Japan.

One of those organizations is Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development, better known as NICCO, which used its ¥206,095 to help empower female Syrian refugees in Zarqa, Jordan.

NICCO has provided support to female refugees in Zarqa since 2012.

The organization provides educational programs including English, computing and embroidery, and runs seminars on law, education, medical care, and the application process for refugee status in Jordan.

Between May and October this year, 245 women participated in the English education program. The objective is to form a community for Syrian women who know nobody and have no relatives in Jordan, and to help them pursue a career, said Miki Fukushima, a NICCO spokeswoman. The English course is especially popular among the Syrian women, Fukushima said.

“Not many of those who fled Syria for Zarqa speak English. Many also attend the classes to educate their children,” Fukushima said, adding that some children have not been able to attend school for six years.

“Since arriving in Jordan, I hadn’t been able to provide adequate education to my children. But after I started attending a NICCO’s class, I’ve been able to teach my children English,” a 34-year-old Syrian refugee wrote in a message sent to Fukushima. “My daily life is full of obstacles, but I’m thankful for that.”

The Philippine-based Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation Inc. (ERDA), another recipient of the readers’ fund, used its donation for educational purposes.

Dolora Cardeno, an executive director of ERDA, said they used the donation offered by The Japan Times readers to provide educational support to 25 children in Manila.

“We bought school supplies, uniforms” and other miscellaneous goods, including pens and notebooks, Cardeno said, adding that part of the donation was used to run training programs. One of the training programs held this year by ERDA was a leadership program, which helped students build their confidence, she said.

Since its founding in 1974, ERDA has worked to offer basic education to children in need. Cardeno said children in the Philippines are at high risk of dropping out of school, especially due to financial difficulty. The nonprofit offered various educational opportunities this year, including math tutorials to children in Manila.

Tokyo-based Japan International Volunteer Center was the fourth recipient of donations from the readers’ fund. The organization used its ¥206,095 donation for a forest preservation project in Laos.

According to JVC the priority for the Laotian government is economic development, highlighted by the construction of a dam and development of a mine and industrial forestation backed by foreign firms and international financial institutions.

JVC claims that while Laos modernizes it risks the lives of Laotians. According to the World Bank data released in 2012, 23.2 percent of the nation’s population lived below the poverty line.

In Laos “about 80 percent of the population still live in agricultural villages,” said Shigeru Kimura, a JVC official in charge of the group’s volunteer program in Laos.

“There are not many opportunities for Laotian citizens in agricultural villages to know about their legal rights,” he said.

According to JVC, the group taught villagers about the legal concept of forest ownership so they can claim property rights over their lands, and created a map to demarcate forests that need to be preserved.

As Laos depends heavily on foreign investment and revenue from leasing land to foreign corporations, JVC has also explained to Laotian government officials the importance of legal settlements of property-related issues. One of the main activities this year “was to spread the understanding of the importance for the (Laotian) government to settle disputes over land and forests in accordance with the law,” said Masahito Hirano, a JVC official.

JVC, founded in 1980, also provides aid in other countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as in the disaster-struck Tohoku region.

This year’s charity campaign runs through Dec. 31. Donations can be made via a bank transfer to the following account: Mizuho Bank, Shimbashi branch, “futsū kōza” 1393499 (account name: The Japan Times Dokusha no Nanmin Enjo Kikin). For more details, contact (03) 3453-5312.