Tokyo Seminar on Refugees and Human Rights in Asia

On March 14, the Tokyo Seminar on Refugees and Human Rights in Asia was held at the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) Global Space.

LFNKR (Life Funds for North Korean Refugees) co-hosted the seminar with the Society to Help Returnees to North Korea. Also participating were speakers from Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand, Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition Japan, Human Rights Watch Tokyo, and Japan Association for Refugees.

Two Japan-born women who escaped from North Korea discussed their own experiences in North Korea, and a Kachin woman talked about her daughter, a victim of human trafficking, who was taken from Kachin State in Myanmar to China.

During the Q&A session following the panel discussion on refugees and human rights in Asia, members from related groups joined in, including No Fence and Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.  There were also young people who said it was their first time to join a seminar related to this issue.

Eri Ishikawa, Secretary General of the Japan Association for Refugees, commented that the Japanese government seems reluctant to grant refugee status to applicants from countries where Japan has ongoing ODA projects or where many Japanese businesses operate.  She said that the Japanese government probably fears that such activities could adversely affect currently good relationships with the governments of those countries.

In response to the above comment, one of the participants, a former immigration control officer who was in charge of deciding whether to grant refugee status, said that there is no diplomatic reason.  He stated that it appears to be the Japanese government’s basic policy to remain extremely cautious, even negative, about accepting refugees who would resettle in Japan long-term. The apparent intention is to protect national benefits.

Some members involved in a group dedicated to helping North Korean refugees expressed surprise that so many serious refugee and human rights issues are taking place also in Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and China, in addition to those in North Korea.

Members of NGOs active at the front lines in helping North Korean refugees in Japan and abroad discussed the difficulties they face when dealing with refugees from completely different cultural backgrounds.

Views expressed by the participants highlighted the fact that most refugees, to survive, must suppress their own urge to obey laws. Then, once settled in a new society, they find it very difficult to regain their former law-abiding mindset and to respect the laws of their new home. They also tend to lack a sense of responsibility. Problems of extreme domestic violence are frequently observed among former refugees.

Child refugees usually have had no chance to receive a basic education; often their parents have abandoned them as well.  Further compounding their difficulties is the problem of serious malnutrition during their infancy.  These factors all adversely influence the physical and mental growth of children.

A view commonly expressed was that a real solution to the problems in North Korea, including the issues of North Korean refugees and the abductions, can only be achieved with the end of the Kim Jong-il regime.  Also widely accepted was a view that the key to a fundamental solution lies with the Chinese government.

The 60th anniversary of the China-North Korea friendship arrangement finds the two countries still bonded like blood brothers, seemingly as solid as an iron wall.  North Korea continues to threaten the world with nuclear weapons and missiles, even while their national economy teeters on the edge of collapse.  China seems to be offering continued support to its younger brother, North Korea.

However, as one of those who has looked more deeply into the plight of the North Korean people, and also as a member of the world community, I am determined to persist in persuading the Chinese government to become aware of the importance of human rights and humanitarianism using every avenue possible.

China, as Asia’s only permanent member of the UN Security Council, is a true political superpower with great influence over world politics.  By 2050 China is expected, according to economists of Goldman Sachs and the World Bank, to be a world political and economic superpower, possibly surpassing the US.  All the more, therefore, we need to urge China to direct efforts toward peace and the prosperity of humanity.

I sincerely hope that the Seminar on Refugees and Human Rights in Asia will be continue to be held so that it may contribute to improvements in these issues.

Report by Shishun Okajika
(LFNKR director)