May 12, 2011

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The Japan Association for Refugees (JAR), which is one of the Japan Platform member organizations, has been organizing groups of volunteers to go to Tohoku and help with the clean-up and other needs. What is unique about these groups of volunteers is that they include refugees that JAR has helped in the past. The first group, for example, included volunteers from Myanmar, Uganda, and the Middle East, all of whom wanted to help the survivors in Tokyo as a way of giving back to Japan. This not only helps the victims in Tohoku, but it gives the Japanese participants an opportunity to interact with the refugees and gain some understanding of their situation at the same time.

JAR has also been reaching out to foreign communities in the Tohoku region to assist them. Last week, they visited a group of Filipino women in the city of Ofunato (Iwate Prefecture), bringing them relief supplies and offering them help with legal matters such as how to apply for disaster assistance. Of the 13 women who had gathered, 5 had lost their homes in the tsunami and they were concerned about whether they should be repaying home loans, their solar panel loans, and so on.

A post by the Tohoku representative of the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan reviewed the organization’s accomplishments and priorities. Having worked on relief operations following such major disasters as the Myanmar Cyclone (2008), the Sumatra Earthquake (2009), and the Pakistan Flood (2010), she was still amazed by the extent of the damage she saw in Tohoku. One thing AAR has learned from past experience is that the elderly and people with disabilities are easily forgotten in times of crisis. They often have difficulty in moving or they need special assistance that makes it hard to adjust to life at an evacuation center. As a result, they stay in their homes or take shelter in facilities that are not officially identified as evacuation centers, and therefore don’t get enough support. AAR gathered lists from each prefecture and from other networks in the area and visited each location on the list in person, checking on the safety of people staying there, distributing supplies, and checking on their needs. They try to return with requested supplies the next day. AAR is also trying to support survivors in their homes, most of whom are now without income and are still lacking the basic lifelines of electricity, water, and communications. AAR is also working to improve coordination among the various agencies and NGOs providing aid. The goal of the organization is to find short-, mid-, and long-term solutions to ensure that nobody is left behind.