Japan's Abe headed to UN meeting, may announce support for refugees

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may creak open his country's notoriously tight immigration policy by accepting some refugees fleeing fighting in war-torn Syria, according to local media.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may creak open his country's notoriously tight immigration policy by accepting some refugees fleeing fighting in war-torn Syria, according to local media.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend a United Nations meeting next week, Tokyo said Friday, with plans to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin and reportedly announce support for Syrian refugees.

Abe may creak open his country's notoriously tight immigration policy by accepting some refugees fleeing fighting in war-torn Syria, local media said.

A four-year war in Syria has killed some 250,000 people and caused about four million people to flee abroad, contributing to Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Details of Abe's planned speech at the UN were not immediately available.

Ahead of Abe's trip to the UN, Japan on Friday announced plans to extend a $4.0 million emergency grant in response to the refugee crisis in Europe.

Japan will give US$2.0 million (S$2.8 million) to the UN refugee agency and development programme "in support of Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon", the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"This emergency grant aid is to provide such support as improving self-reliance of Syrian refugees and strengthening local governments," it added.

Tokyo will also grant an additional $2.0 million mainly to Serbia and Macedonia, where many refugees and migrants pass through on their way to the EU bloc, it said.

"The world always has various problems, including the issue of Syrian refugees who are going to Europe," Abe said in a press conference Friday.

"As we are in such a period, I will express Japan's strong intention to contribute to the world's peace and prosperity."

Abe's planned meeting with Putin comes amid efforts to hash out a deal on a longstanding territorial dispute with Moscow over islands north of Japan.

In response to the influx of refugees fleeing to Europe, Japan is mulling accepting "dozens" of Syrian students, which would slightly open the country's usually closed door for migrants, the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers said Friday.

Japan is known to tightly control the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers it accepts.

Tokyo has given refugee status to just three Syrians thus far out of about 60 fleeing the war-torn nation, the Asahi said.

Last year, Tokyo accepted a total of 11 refugees, whose nationalities are not disclosed, after some 5,000 from 73 countries sought such status in Japan, according to the justice ministry.