Japan to offer $810 mln to support refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan, which accepted just 11 asylum seekers last year out of a record 5,000 applicants, will provide about $810 million in aid in response to refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, public broadcaster NHK reported on Monday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to announce the new aid when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, NHK said, but made no reference to whether Japan would ease its own strict conditions for accepting refugees.

The United Nations said on Friday it could see no easing of the flow of refugees into Europe, with 8,000 arrivals each day, and that problems now facing governments may turn out to be only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Japan’s foreign ministry last Friday announced it would provide grant aid of $2 million to support Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon and another $2 million for West Balkan countries, such as Serbia and Macedonia, which are facing an influx of refugees and migrants.

Tokyo this month announced changes to its refugee system that activists said would make the country even harder to reach for people needing protection.

Fourteen non-government organisations, including rights body Amnesty International, on Monday urged Abe to make the acceptance of Syrian refugees into Japan part of his U.N. speech.

“Now is the time for Japan, a G7 country, to take an active role in contributing to the international resolution of this crisis by accepting Syrian refugees into Japan,” Eri Ishikawa, chairwoman of the Japan Association for Refugees, told a news conference.

The United States, the biggest donor of humanitarian aid, recently announced it would provide an additional $419 million, bringing its total humanitarian assistance to more than $4.5 billion during the crisis.

But a White House plan for an annual increase of 15,000 refugees in the number accepted by the country over the next two years faces stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers who have cited fears about terrorism.