In the world today, almost everyone knows of the Syrian refugee crisis. We see it in the news, talk about it during meals, and think about how we should do something to help the Syrian refugees. Perhaps only Syrian refugees, though—not because we favor them over other refugees, but simply because we tend to be less aware of the existence of refugees in other parts of the world.
The Syrian refugee crisis is so heavily publicized that we often neglect the millions of refugees and displaced persons in parts of South America, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific. Refugees are not restricted to a single region; they are in many parts of the world, and the global refugee crisis is part of our daily lives, in some form or another.
With this in mind, I’d like to focus here on a country in East Asia, the country that I’ve called home for eighteen years: Japan. What is Japan’s role in the refugee crisis, and what is being done in response?
Japan is not what is called a “country of origin,” meaning a country whose citizens become refugees because of unstable and unsafe conditions. Countries that do fit this description are places of extreme unrest such as Libya, Afghanistan, Colombia, and of course, Syria.
Japan is a highly developed first-world country and there is practically no unrest or violence severe enough to make residents flee to other countries. In fact, it is generally seen as a desirable place for refugees to flee to, particularly by refugees from Southeast Asia, as well as by those from other regions in Asia and the Middle East.
In Tokyo, there are several organizations, among them Refugees International Japan (RIJ), that work to both increase awareness of the refugee crisis and raise funds to help refugees. RIJ primarily raises funds for refugees in other regions of the world, such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but there are several other organizations dedicated to helping refugees here in Japan, such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Japan and the Japan Association for Refugees (JAR). There are also independent human rights lawyers who advocate for these refugees.
At the school I go to in Tokyo, we mostly know about the refugee crisis, but there is still a tendency to focus primarily on what’s going on in Syria and Europe.
Just like other people around the world, we’ve seen the heart-wrenching images of dead refugees washing up on Greek or Turkish shores, of capsized rafts in the Mediterranean or Aegean, because these are the sorts of photos that circulate in the global news. However, we do not know as much about the refugees in other parts of the world, and we tend to also forget that there are many refugees right here in Japan, the country that we live in.
As previously mentioned, there are millions of refugees and displaced persons all over the globe, especially in the Middle East (countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), South America (countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela), Central and East Africa (countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Somalia), and Southeast Asia (countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines). In Japan, there are refugees from abroad seeking asylum as well as internal refugees (also referred to as evacuees) who lost their homes and are still living in temporary housing because of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Tohoku.
I recently started a chapter of the aforementioned Refugees International Japan at my school. While there is still a long way to go, we’re working to let people know about what’s happening locally and globally by hosting and participating in both school and community events, as well as raising funds, and we hope to expand and continue to raise awareness.
As citizens of the world, we shouldn’t harbor the misconception that a developed and modern country is free of issues involving refugees, displaced persons, and asylum seekers. We should also recognize that people who want to help and make a difference can be found everywhere, even if they are a minority. Often they are a minority simply because relatively few people know what is going on; it’s usually not that people don’t want to help.
If we want to make a difference, whether in Japan, our own communities, or elsewhere, we need to tell people about what’s happening. We need to tell people that the refugee crisis is a global issue that must be solved for the good of this world.
If we don’t know how to start helping, we can contact local organizations and see if we can volunteer, or we can watch videos online—anything that teaches us something and motivates us to act.
This is how we can make a difference for the tens of millions of refugees and displaced persons who leave their homes because they feel as if they have no other choice; how we can let them know that there are people out there aware of their situation and wanting to help.
We can’t solve the world’s refugee crisis all at once, but if each of us does our part, we can make a big impact.