Provide rapid response to humanitarian crises in Ukraine

Providing humanitarian assistance to displaced people fleeing Russia’s invasion is an international responsibility. The Japanese government needs to ascertain the situation in Ukraine and surrounding countries, and take prompt action.

The government plans to dispatch an Air Self-Defense Force transport plane in the near future to deliver aid supplies to people fleeing from Ukraine to its neighboring countries.

At the request of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the ASDF plane will be used to transport blankets and other supplies from UNHCR stockpiles in India and Dubai to Poland and Romania, based on Japan’s International Peace Cooperation Law.

In the past, Japan has provided sleeping mats and other relief supplies to the UNHCR free of charge. In addition, it has contributed $200 million to international organizations and other entities engaged in humanitarian assistance.

It is hoped that the Japanese government will make every possible effort to coordinate with relevant organizations and countries neighboring Ukraine to improve the living conditions of displaced Ukrainians.

The government also should consider dispatching medical and nursing personnel from the Self-Defense Forces, among other steps, to support the medical systems of countries that have received large numbers of refugees.

The government has been flexible regarding support and the residence status of displaced Ukrainians in Japan. However, many aspects of the legal system are inadequate to deal with the humanitarian crises. The reality is that each time a problem arises, the government has had to deal with the issue by expanding the interpretation of relevant laws.

When 20 displaced people traveled to Japan on a government plane earlier this month, they were classified as “companions” of Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, as there is no explicit provision in the Self-Defense Forces Law for such transportations.

However, the revised Self-Defense Forces Law now allows the dispatch of SDF aircraft to transport foreign nationals and others working at Japanese diplomatic establishments and other entities abroad. The law was revised in response to the failure to smoothly evacuate Afghans linked to the Japanese Embassy or engaged in work linked to the Japanese government in Afghanistan.

However, the provision cannot be applied to only foreigners who have no ties to Japan.

It is anticipated that a large number of people, including Japanese nationals, could be displaced if a situation like the war in Ukraine occurs again. In preparation for future emergencies, it is necessary to study in detail how the law should be applied and to consider establishing further legislation.

When displaced Ukrainians arrived in Japan, the Japanese government granted them short-term visas, with the possibility of changing their visa status at a later date so they can work in the country. In principle, people on short-term visas have to leave Japan before changing their visa status. However, a special exception has been made in this case.

The government is considering a legal revision to establish a system to offer displaced people from conflict areas similar protections as those offered to people with refugee status in Japan. If the plan is realized, displaced people from countries and regions other than Ukraine would be eligible for support, which would conceivably help them find stability in their lives.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 21, 2022)