Japan commits $1.5bn for Middle East refugees, peace

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Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe committed $1.5 billion Tuesday to help refugees from Syria and Iraq, and to support peace building efforts in the wider Middle East to stem the crisis.

He made the announcement at the UN General Assembly while pressing for reforms that would allow Japan -- the second largest contributor to the UN budget -- to become a permanent member of the Security Council.

The package includes $810 million to assist refugees from, and people displaced within Syria and Iraq -- triple the amount Japan provided last year -- and $750 million for peace building in the Middle East and Africa.

Japan has already set aside another $2 million to assist Lebanon, which hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees, and $2.5 million for Serbia and Macedonia, through which refugees flee en route to the European Union.

"Each of these assistance measures is an emergency countermeasure that Japan is able to undertake," Abe told the General Assembly.

"But at the same time, our unchanging principle is at all times to endeavor to return to the root of the problem and improve the situation."

The Syrian war, now into a fifth year, has killed more than 240,000 people and forced four million people to flee abroad, contributing to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

- Revamped Security Council -

The $750 million are expected to boost peace and stability efforts, such as vocational training, and providing dependable water and sewage facilities in Iraq, the wider Middle East and North Africa.

"I wish to look squarely at the fact that behind the refugees we find a much larger number of people who are unable even to flee and become refugees," Abe explained.

The Syrian war has helped spark mounting calls for changes to the powerful Security Council, which has been deeply divided over how to address conflict with Russia pitted against Western powers.

Japan joined Brazil, Germany and India on the sidelines of a UN development summit Saturday to push for seats in a revamped Council that they said would do a better job of addressing global crises.

"Japan seeks to become a permanent member of the Security Council and makes a contribution commensurate with that stature," Abe said Tuesday.

He highlighted Japan's role in training more than 20,000 police personnel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and army engineers working in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Japan is in the process of upgrading its domestic laws so that it can play a more active role in UN peacekeeping, he said. Japan's pacifist constitution has barred Tokyo from sending troops in peace operations.

Tokyo hopes to be elected to the 15-member council as a two-year rotating member for what would be the 11th time.