Ja­pan backs off preg­nancy clause for Syria refugees

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TOKYO: A Ja­panese pro­gram aimed at ac­cept­ing a small num­ber of refugees from war-torn Syria promised yes­ter­day to re­move lan­guage from doc­u­ments which im­plied that preg­nant women are not wel­come to ap­ply.

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe an­nounced in May that im­mi­gra­tion-shy Ja­pan, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 127 mil­lion, would ac­cept up to 150 Syr­ian stu­dents over five years from 2017.

That num­ber com­pares with vastly higher fig­ures in other coun­tries. Nor­way, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 5.1 mil­lion, has pledged to ac­cept some 9,000 Syr­i­ans.

Abe sep­a­rately pledged at a refugee sum­mit hosted by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Septem­ber that Ja­pan was also pre­pared to “warmly wel­come” fam­ily mem­bers of the stu­dents.

But the Ja­panese unit of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has raised con­cerns that the pro­gram for Syr­i­ans vir­tu­ally ex­cluded preg­nant women. As ad­ver­tised, the pro­gram en­ti­tled “Ja­panese Ini­tia­tive for the fu­ture of Syr­ian Refugees”-has sev­eral re­quire­ments for ap­pli­cants.

Orig­i­nally, it in­cluded the line: “Preg­nant ap­pli­cants are not rec­om­mended to ap­ply,” ac­cord­ing to Amnesty and the gov­ern­ment’s Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Agency (JICA), which man­ages the pro­gram. But af­ter Amnesty and other groups ex­pressed con­cern, it was changed to read: “Be­fore the ap­pli­ca­tion, preg­nant ap­pli­cants are ad­vised to con­sider care­fully po­ten­tial risk of health and life is­sues of mother and fe­tus.”

JICA spokesman Satoshi Mu­rakami, how­ever, said yes­ter­day that the or­ga­ni­za­tion would re­move the clause as it was cre­at­ing “mis­un­der­stand­ing”. He had ear­lier in the day told AFP the pro­gram’s main fo­cus was “not to res­cue the un­der­priv­i­leged but to ed­u­cate per­son­nel” for Syria’s re­con­struc­tion. “When a preg­nant wo­man comes to Ja­pan and gives birth, she will have to rest for some time,” he said, though stress­ing that the pro­gram was not meant to ex­clude ex­pec­tant women.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional had ob­jected to that stance. “The re­quire­ment is prob­lem­atic be­cause it nar­rows the win­dow for fe­male ap­pli­cants,” said Kaoru Ya­m­aguchi, who added that it dis­cour­ages refugees from ap­ply­ing. In March Bri­tish char­ity Ox­fam as­sessed Ja­pan should take in some 50,000 Syr­i­ans based on the size of its econ­omy. Last year it ac­cepted 27 refugees, in­clud­ing three Syr­i­ans, af­ter some 7,500 peo­ple from 69 coun­tries sought such sta­tus in Ja­pan, ac­cord­ing to the jus­tice min­istry.

TOKYO: Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe (R) lis­tens to US Ambassador to Ja­pan Caro­line Kennedy (L) dur­ing a joint an­nounce­ment of the re­turn of US mil­i­tary land on the is­land of Okinawa, at Abe’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence yes­ter­day.

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