An article published by Japan Times this week reveals an admonishing insight into Refugee Headquarters Japan (RHQ), the lead NPO contracted by the Ministry of Justice to provide support to Myanmar refugees arriving through the resettlement program.

RHQ is directly responsible for delivering the initial 6-month Japanese-language training course and overseeing the subsequent 6-month training program, where families work on farms to gain skills toward future employment.

Lawyers representing the first group of refugees to go through the program have criticized RHQ for their treatment of the families, who they say have been living in poverty due to underpay, poor working conditions and inadequate access to supports.

The families were told they were not permitted a land-line phone, fax or internet access and were forbidden from contacting the Karen community in Japan or other non-profit groups that were willing to help them settle.

Effective service delivery, certainly in the human services sector, requires a coordinated, collaborative approach. Government, working together with NPOs, working together with community groups. Ultimately, it is up to the Ministry of Justice to design a program which initiates and mandates the involvement of other agencies, groups and departments in the delivery of settlement support. Despite this, there is surely some scope for RHQ to facilitate this within program requirements.

I don’t know enough about the social services sector in Japan to determine whether a cross-sectoral approach is widely acknowledged as best practice. However, from my own experiences in Australia, where refugee settlement support is designed to be a multi-player process delivered by various NPOs, all levels of government and refugee community groups, it is clear that access to multiple supports can lead to very positive outcomes. Furthermore, in Australia the role played by refugee community groups is recognised as a central contributor to successful settlement and even promoted by Government through numerous funding opportunities.

The lawyers who brought said allegations to light have called for an urgent rethink of the Japanese refugee resettlement program. They have proposed a meeting of stakeholders from government, NPOs, community and legal representatives where ideas can be considered and shared toward improving the system for refugees to come.

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