Tokyo Report

Japan’s Top Envoy Brings Back 20 Ukrainians From Poland

Recent Features

Tokyo Report | Diplomacy | East Asia

Japan’s Top Envoy Brings Back 20 Ukrainians From Poland

Japan has an extremely strict refugee policy and has been reluctant to fully accept migrant workers, making its offer to accept Ukrainians unusual. 

Japan’s Top Envoy Brings Back 20 Ukrainians From Poland

Ukrainian refugees walk upon arrival from Poland at the Haneda Airport Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Tokyo.

Credit: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa returned from Poland on Tuesday with 20 Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s ongoing war on their country as Tokyo seeks to play a greater role in international support for Ukraine.

During three days in Poland, Hayashi visited facilities for Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw and held talks with Polish officials, international humanitarian organizations, and civil groups to assess how Japan can provide support.

“As I observed the severe situation faced by Ukrainians who were forced to flee their country because of the Russian invasion, I have renewed my resolve that Japan should cooperate with international society and provide the utmost assistance so they can return to ordinary lives as soon as possible,” Hayashi told reporters.

Japan has an extremely strict refugee policy and has been reluctant to fully accept migrant workers, making its offer to accept Ukrainians unusual. However, the government has carefully called them evacuees and it is still unclear if the Ukrainian situation will change its immigration policy.

Tokyo expects the 20 evacuees will stay in Japan for at least six months, and will provide further support if needed, said Deputy Justice Minister Jun Tsushima, who was traveling with Hayashi.

Tokyo has previously accepted about 300 other Ukrainians, all relatives of about 2,000 Ukrainian residents in Japan who arrived on their own since the Russian invasion began.

Foreign Ministry officials have said most Ukrainian war-displaced have ties to Europe and they hope to return when the situation allows, indicating Japan is not treating them as refugees seeking permanent residency and protection.

Hayashi said he was impressed by the high level of care and support being given to refugees in Poland, including food, medical care, counseling for those with trauma, and support for children. “What we observed here will certainly help us plan our support for them in Japan,” he said.

The 20 people previously contacted Japanese embassies in Ukraine or Poland but had difficulty arranging their own transportation to Japan, Hayashi said, declining to give further details because of privacy reasons.

Hayashi and the refugees arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday. After COVID-19 tests on board and necessary arrivals procedures, the Ukrainians were expected to head to their destinations — some to towns where their relatives live, and others to government facilities.

He met with them on Monday to assure them of their safety and support in Japan, where several cities, including Tokyo and Osaka, have offered to provide housing, jobs, education for children, and other necessities.

Japan, which has a territorial dispute with Russia, took milder steps when Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

But this time, due to fears of the impact of the Russian invasion on East Asia, where China’s military has become increasingly assertive, Tokyo has taken tougher measures in line with the United States and Europe, while providing support for Ukraine.

Hayashi held talks earlier Monday with his Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau, as well as Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda.

At a joint news conference with Rau, Hayashi praised Poland’s support for war-displaced Ukrainians and pledged that Japan will accept as many evacuees as possible as a humanitarian measure and to show its “solidarity” with Poland.

“In order to protect the free and open international order, Japan will continue to cooperate with its strategic partner, Poland,” Hayashi said.

As part of those efforts, Japan will continue to impose tough sanctions on Russia, Hayashi said.

Japan has pledged $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Poland and its neighbors that are accepting war-displaced Ukrainians, in addition to an earlier pledge of $100 million in humanitarian aid.