In 2012, there were no individuals resettled to Japan from Myanmar as part of the organised resettlement program. According to reports, 16 individuals from three families were expected to resettle in Japan from a refugee camp in Thailand, but pulled out at the last minute during their pre-departure orientation.
This surprising statistic further supports continued accusations of Japan’s difficulty to attract Burmese refugees due to a lack of appropriate supports and services for resettled refugees adjusting to their new life in Japan.
Japan currently only accepts refugees residing within one of three camps in Thailand. Prospective candidates for resettlement are identified by UNHCR and put forward to the Japanese Government who conducts interviews to determine their suitability. Selected individuals are then put through a health check and pre-departure cultural and language orientation session in Thailand by International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The refugees are then brought to Japan where they participate in a 6 month intensive Japanese language and orientation program in Tokyo, followed by 6 months of employment training.
One major issue has been the fact that refugees have no option to extend the initial 6 month orientation program which can surely only afford participants a basic grasp of Japanese language, culture and society. Secondly, it’s alleged that resettled refugees are given very little say in their location of resettlement for on-the-job training and subsequent employment. This has meant families have been dispersed to locations across Japan, generally in rural areas, where they have limited access to supports.
By end of 2011, 45 Karen refugees had been resettled under this program. With the Japanese Government’s announcement at the beginning of 2012 that they would be extending the pilot resettlement program for an additional two years, there is currently a critical window within which to get it right and prove that refugee resettlement is something which Japan can sustain and build.
The failure to attract any refugees in 2012 highlights a disturbing need for big changes to the program on a number of levels. Japan needs a drastic improvement of its support services and conditions for refugees upon arrival, but maybe also a reconsideration of their overall resettlement criteria. It seems the preference for Burmese refugees is based on some assumption that they will find it easier to integrate within Japanese society. But what evidence is there to suggest that refugees from Myanmar will settle more easier than say, refugees from Bhutan? Furthermore, the program has until now, focussed on admitting families, but maybe it is time to open it up to alternative demographics such as single males, who could be more mobile and find it easier to source work.
As refugee supporters continue to watch this space with bated breath, around 140,000 Burmese refugees wait endlessly in Thai refugee camps, longing for a brighter future.