Julie Jacobson / AP Photo

Japan boosts support for refugees from Syria, Iraq

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promises $1.6B for refugees but declines to settle any people fleeing the Syria conflict

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that his country would provide some $1.6 billion to assist Syrians and Iraqis displaced by conflict and to build peace across the Middle East and Africa.

He told the United Nations General Assembly that Japan would boost its assistance for refugees and internally displaced people from Syria and Iraq this year to about $810 million, three times the amount provided last year.

He added that Japan would also provide about $750 million for peace-building efforts across the Middle East and Africa. In February, Japan announced a $15.5 million aid counterterrorism package in the Middle East and Africa after the murder of two citizens by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

But the premier brushed off any suggestion that Japan — which accepted just 11 of about 5,000 asylum seekers last year — would take in any refugees from the Syrian conflict, which has led to the world's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Asked at a New York news conference whether Japan would accept Syrian refugees, Abe replied that his country needs to boost its own workforce by empowering more women and older people to work. "As an issue of demography, I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, by elderly people and we must raise [the] birthrate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants," he said, according to the official translation of his comments.

He added that Japan would "discharge our own responsibility" in addressing the refugee crisis, which he described as helping improve conditions that cause the exodus.

Japan prides itself on being a good global citizen. It is one of the largest aid donors in the world. Last year Japan gave $181.6 million to the UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency, making it second only to the United States.

But it has offered very few if any resettlement places for refugees from the civil war in Syria. Japanese officials say most of its asylum applicants last year were from other Asian countries and were already living in Japan.

Some argue that increased immigration could help arrest a shrinking population, which is currently 126 million. Abe says he is determined to ensure that in 50 years the Japanese population has stabilized at 100 million.

Wire services

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