Refugee support from Hiroshima

by Takashi Kenda, Staff Writer

The Seminar on Humanitarian Assistance in Africa was held in Hiroshima on November 28 and 29. In addition to issues involving refugees, another topic discussed at the seminar dealt with people who have become internally displaced. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Johan Cels, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representation in Japan and one of the participants of the seminar, about the role that Hiroshima can play to support refugees.

What are the current conditions and challenges in regard to refugee issues?
In Asia, there are about 3 million refugees in Afghanistan and about 2 million in Iraq. In Africa, due to the flare-up of violence in Congo’s civil war, 250,000 more people have become internally displaced within the last couple of days. However, once security improves, the world loses interest in these areas and ignores the significant humanitarian damage. This state of affairs constitutes a crisis.

What sort of role can Hiroshima play?
The people of Hiroshima who lost their loved ones and property in the atomic bombing experienced the same kind of suffering, or even worse, as these refugees. For Hiroshima citizens to share in the refugees’ pain could yield a strong message of hope for rebuilding their lives. I would like to see the people of Hiroshima spearhead support efforts for refugees.

What can the citizens of Hiroshima do?
Since the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law was recently revised, the number of people Japan recognizes as refugees has been growing. The first step is to raise awareness of refugees through such opportunities as seminars. Refugees face many difficulties when they return to their countries or when they want to settle in new places. I hope everyone will think about how refugees can be made to feel at home in their new communities.

As reported at our gathering, a variety of support from Hiroshima-based NGOs is already being provided to aid refugees. If these organizations approach the UNHCR, it might be possible to develop a network of such groups. We would also like to help NGOs through workshops and other means so they can enhance their skills in their fields of expertise, such as securing water at refugee camps and improving public health.

(Originally published on November 30, 2008)

Related Articles
Paper cranes folded by children in Gabon sent to Hiroshima (Nov. 29, 2008)