Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Burma: Japan takes first steps to resettle Burmese refugees

Japanese officials are visiting a refugee camp in northern Thailand to interview refugees from Myanmar who are setting to start new lives in Japan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.

This is the first concrete move Japan has taken towards becoming the first Asian nation to resettle refugees from Myanmar, following its announcement in December 2008 that it will take in 90 people from Mae La camp over three years as part of a pilot project.

UNHCR selected refugees being interviewed this week based on how long they have been living in the camp, in some cases reaching two decades but with no other solution in sight.

“The final decisions as to whether they will be accepted for resettlement rests with Japan,” said agency spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

Barring any glitches, the first refugee family is expected to leave for Japan this September, with 30 refugees set to be resettled every year over three years.

Approximately 20,000 Myanmar refugees have already left Mae La to begin new lives, forming part of the more than 55,000 refugees who have been resettled from the nine camps in Thailand since a large-scale programme started in 2005. Most have departed for the United States, Australia and Canada.

“We welcome the addition of Japan to the list of resettlement countries, not only for the important signal it sends to other Asian countries, but also as significant burden-sharing, helping Thailand find solutions for refugees from Myanmar who have been on its territory for more than 25 years,” Mr. Mahecic said.

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