UNITED NATIONS: Japan committed $1.5 billion Tuesday to counter the growing Middle East refugee crisis as Tokyo pressed demands at the UN General Assembly for a greater role in the world body.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been instrumental in demanding reforms that would allow Japan — the second-largest contributor to the UN budget — to become a permanent member of the Security Council.
His aid package includes $810 million to assist refugees from and within Syria and Iraq — triple the amount Japan provided last year — and $750 million for peace building in the Middle East and Africa.
Japan has already set aside another $2 million to assist Lebanon, which hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees, and $2.5 million for Serbia and Macedonia, through which refugees flee en route to the European Union.
“Each of these assistance measures is an emergency countermeasure that Japan is able to undertake,” Abe told the General Assembly.
The Syrian war, now into a fifth year, has killed more than 240,000 people and forced four million people to flee abroad, putting Europe in the crosshairs of the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“The largest problem this year is the exodus of an enormous number of refugees to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa,” Abe told a news conference in New York.
“The cause of this tragedy is the fear of violence and terrorism, and terror of poverty. The world must cooperate in order for them to find a way to escape poverty.”
Local media in Japan had reported that Abe might creak open his country’s notoriously tight immigration policy by accepting some Syrian refugees, but Abe poured cold water on those reports in New York.
“There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants,” he told reporters, listing as examples promoting women, matters related to the elderly and increasing the country’s birth rate.
Tokyo has given refugee status to just three Syrians thus far out of about 60 fleeing the war-torn nation, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Security Council seat
Abe said securing peace, rehabilitating the economy and helping people stand on their own feet was the “shortest way” to solving the problem.
Japan’s $750 million is expected to boost stability efforts, such as through education and health care in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Syrian war has helped spark mounting calls for changes to the powerful Security Council, which has been deeply divided over how to address conflict with Russia pitted against Western powers.
Japan has joined forces with Brazil, Germany and India to push for seats in a revamped Council that they said would do a better job of addressing global crises.
Before the UN General Assembly, Abe highlighted Japan’s role in training more than 20,000 police in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and army engineers working in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Japan is in the process of upgrading its domestic laws so that it can play a more active role in UN peacekeeping. Japan’s pacifist constitution has barred Tokyo from sending troops in peace operations.
“We the Japanese are willing and prepared to discharge even greater responsibility as a permanent member of the Security Council for the purpose of creating a better world,” Abe told reporters.
Tokyo hopes to be elected to the 15-member council as a two-year rotating member for what would be the 11th time.
On Tuesday, Abe met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the General Assembly, amid efforts to hash out a deal on a longstanding territorial dispute with Moscow over islands north of Japan.
Abe told reporters that their discussions had been “quite candid and broad.” Asked whether there had been a breakthrough, he said they had agreed to continue the dialogue.