Vulnerable in Japan: A voice for the voiceless Posted July 4, 2011 by Vulnerable in Japan


Divisions exist between peoples in any society. This is a given. But this is not something at which we should just shrug our shoulders and experience as a passive observer. As human beings sharing the planet with 6.92 billion others, we have an obligation to be interested in these divisions which translate into social injustices for so many people. By developing a genuine understanding of the complexities of oppression and injustice, we can best work towards changing things for the better. The first step, however, is opening ourselves and our mind up to different perspectives and possibilities.

Refugees across the world are the casualties of human division. While diverse in culture, religion and political belief, they are united by the common experience of fleeing from their home countries due to a well founded fear of persecution.

According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is:

‘Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country’.

The oppression these individuals experience within their countries of origin is considerable or ‘life-threatening’, to put it plainly. But how much do we really know about what happens next? The systemic oppression and disadvantage that plagues many even after escaping to ‘safety’? And what do we know about how the actions/attitudes of our governments, policies, citizens and even culture influence the everyday lives of individuals and whole communities? Specifically in the case of Japan, how has this country, as the 3rd largest economy in the world, managed to remain with only marginal internal responsibility in comparison to the rest of the developed world? The number of refugees is only increasing. At latest count, 15.4 million refugees and a further 27.5 million internally displaced people?

At present, in many countries such as Australia, France and Sweden it is hard to turn on the TV without seeing the latest refugee-related controversy underlined by political motivations and often just plain racism. Despite the constant hysterical media reports and political spin, at least there is dialogueThe issue is on people’s minds and is a topic of conversation.

Refugees are the hidden victims of Japan’s largely homogeneous society. Quiz any Japanese person on the circumstances of refugees in Japan and most will tell you they simply don’t exist. Many however, are interested to know more. They willingly declare shame at their ignorance. No dialogue exists.

So how have the voices of refugees in Japan continued to be so silenced? Where is the dialogue? What supports are in place to ensure their safety and well-being and what’s missing? As a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees these are questions both the international community and the Japanese public should be asking.

This site will examine these questions. It will highlight and promote greater understanding of refugees in Japan. By encouraging international conversation, perhaps the plight of refugees will begin to feature more significantly on Japan’s national conscience.

This is a drop in the ocean, but nonetheless an attempt to ultimately make a positive change in the lives of refugees here and across the globe.

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