Japan: First Myanmar refugees arrive for resettlement

Briefing Notes, 28 September 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 28 September 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

After spending up to 25 years in a refugee camp in Thailand, three families from Myanmar arrived in Japan today to begin new lives under Asia's first-ever pilot resettlement programme.

The 18 refugees three married couples and their 12 children, aged one to 15 stepped off a six-hour overnight flight at Narita airport near Tokyo early this morning to begin new lives in Japan. Japan pledged in December, 2008, that it would accept 90 Myanmar refugees from Mae La camp in northern Thailand over three years.

Two other families, one with four children and another with three children, had to stay behind in Bangkok at the last minute because they were suffering from flu. They are expected to travel as soon as they get well. The families, who are farmers of the Karen ethnicity, fled Myanmar between 1985 and 2001. The parents range in age from 28 to 45, and almost all the children were born as refugees in Thailand.

This flight marks a new chapter in Japan's strengthening of its refugee and asylum policies. Japan is UNHCR's second-largest donor. Not only does the country provide generous financial support for refugees in many parts of the world, but it now also provides a future for refugees in the country. We very much hope Japan will set an example in resettlement for other Asian countries to follow.

Japanese officials first visited Mae La camp to select refugees for resettlement in February this year. Initially the families will settle in Tokyo, where the Japanese government will give them generous assistance in integrating during their first six months.

While still in Mae La, the refugees took lessons in adapting to Japanese culture, and some rudimentary Japanese language lessons. In Tokyo, they will be given apartments, more language lessons, and help in adapting to the culture, as well as vocational training and support in finding a job.

The next two groups of 30 refugees are to follow in one and two years' time. Some 20,500 refugees have already been resettled from Mae La camp, among the nearly 61,000 Myanmar refugees who have been resettled from the nine camps in Thailand since large-scale resettlement began in 2005. Most have gone to the United States, Australia and Canada, with a smaller number departing for eight other countries, including New Zealand. With so many refugees having been resettled, the population of Mae La has fallen to just under 30,000, but it remains the biggest refugee camp along the Thai-Myanmar border.

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Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

UNHCR Resettlement Handbook and Country Chapters

July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

UNHCR Relief Items Pour into Myanmar

With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

Posted on 12 June 2008

UNHCR Relief Items Pour into Myanmar

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