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Refugees in Conflict: Japan's Policy for New Humanitarian Aid

Isami Takeda

Professor of International Relations
Dokkyo University

 

A new dimension of international humanitarian issues concerns the protection of people and refugees when internal conflicts cause central governments and states to collapse or disband. In the post-cold war period, more than ninety such conflicts have occurred, resulting in the violation of human rights and many casualties. The international community has responded to the problems by arranging UN peacekeeping operations and by conducting emergency relief operations through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has assisted 27 million refugees. Japan's response, however, has been quite limited except for financial support.

Japan is constrained in tackling these issues by, first, the prohibition under the UN Peacekeeping Operations Cooperation Act of 1992 against sending personnel to conflict zones. While Japan has participated in six UN peacekeeping and relief operations, Japan's contribution was made in postconflict situations. Second, Japan's Disaster Relief Team of 2,000 registered personnel can only help refugees and victims of natural disaster, not conflict. Thus the Disaster Relief Team is much underused.

Japan is one of the world's major donors of financial assistance to humanitarian bodies such as the UNHCR, but Japan's stance on new humanitarian issues is unclear. It is a duty of Japan and the international community to provide conflict-induced refugees with emergency relief. This paper recommends that Japan should (1) formulate a new international humanitarian aid policy focusing on refugee relief in conflicts; (2) change the Peacekeeping Operations Cooperation Act to allow military personnel into conflict zones to provide emergency relief for refugees and establish within the Self-Defense Forces a new Humanitarian Emergency Aid Team to cope with refugee relief in conflict; (3) deploy the Disaster Relief Team to help refugee relief not only in natural disasters but also in postconflict situations, and pursue joint operations with peacekeeping operations personnel; and (4) continue financial support to the humanitarian agencies, but evaluate the performance of these agencies and exercise its constructive influence on their decisions.