Japan offers aid to support stability in 5 West African countries

By TATSUYA KIMURA | Japan News-Yomiuri | Published: August 30, 2019

TOKYO — Japan has announced new support measures focusing on human resources development for five West African countries in the Sahel region at the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama.

The background to this is the increasingly serious problem of people becoming refugees.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of refugees in sub-Saharan Africa tripled over the past decade to reach about 6.3 million at the end of 2018, accounting for about one-fourth of all refugees globally.

The reasons for the increase include conflict, poverty and drought, while the Islamic State extremist group's ramping up of activities in various parts of Africa has also accelerated the increase in refugees over the period.

In five countries in the Sahel region - Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso - the rise of extremist groups is notable, with some pointing to the possibility of a surge in refugees.

The support measures for the five countries announced on Wednesday place importance on human resources development in the judiciary and administrative fields to help each government maintain stability on its own.

The Japanese government plans to train 1,000 personnel over the next three years, while enhancing the provision of vocational training and educational opportunities for young people and others.

Stability in the Sahel region is also important to reduce the number of refugees heading for Europe, according to the UNHCR. Many refugees heading for Europe from various parts of Africa cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat from North Africa. Since the Sahel region is geographically close to North Africa, if the number of refugees in the region increases, it will inevitably affect Europe.

For that reason, leaders of the Group of Seven advanced countries agreed to actively engage in stabilizing the Sahel region at the summit meeting held in France earlier this month. Japan aims to contribute to reducing the number of refugees through providing assistance, thus increasing its presence in Africa.

On the other hand, some African countries expressed mixed feelings. Musa Ecweru, state minister for disaster preparedness, management and refugees in Uganda, which is known for its generous refugee policy, said at a TICAD-related meeting Thursday that it is important to treat refugees as equals, not see them as a burden on the countries that take them in.