Japan will accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday, in a break with the country’s usual reticence to accept humanitarian arrivals.
The private sector weighed in on the issue, with discount store chain Pan Pacific International offering to provide financial support and job opportunities for 100 refugee families from the war-torn European nation.
Tokyo typically accepts just a few dozen refugees a year out of thousands of applicants, and its borders are currently closed to virtually all foreign visitors to prevent Covid-19 infections.
In 2020, Japan accepted just 47 refugees and 44 people on humanitarian grounds out of nearly 4,000 applicants, and rights groups have long accused Tokyo of doing too little to help those fleeing conflict.
But Kishida said the country would now “proceed with a plan to welcome people from Ukraine who have fled to third countries”.
He said it would “demonstrate our solidarity with the Ukrainian people at such a crucial moment”.
Pan Pacific, formerly known as Don Quijote Holdings, said it is still working out details such as where the families would be housed and would consider cooperating with other companies in supporting refugees.
Kishida’s remarks came after he held talks with Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, which is hosting many of the more than 800,000 refugees who have fled Ukraine since the invasion began.
Moldova has also been a destination for Ukrainians fleeing the war-torn country.
Kishida said Japan expected to first accept those with relatives or friends in the country, “but beyond that, we will respond from a humanitarian perspective,” he added without setting a specific cap on arrivals.
He said refugees would be processed outside of the current border regime that bars foreign tourists and limits overseas arrivals.
There were no immediate details on how long refugees might be able to stay.
- AFP and Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell