People haven’t chosen to be where they are – they’re there because of others’ actions.
With these words Ms Jane Best, CEO of Refugees International Japan (RIJ), addressed the intimate 2016 Spring Gathering of the RSA Japan Fellows’ Network on May 18th. An independent, Tokyo-based non-profit organisation with over thirty years’ experience, RIJ has funded refugee rehabilitation projects across the world – consequently, Jane was the perfect guest speaker to explain the rapidly-shifting global tides of refugee issues, as well as to explore just how and why we should support those who have been forced to flee their homes.
Jane’s own engagement with refugee issues and international development began early. After graduating from college in the UK, she took up a life-changing volunteer posting with VSO International in Zambia; she not only contributed to Zambian development, but found herself also changed through being able to learn from others and expose herself to a completely different culture. This theme of collaborative work has carried on into her stewardship of RIJ. Rather than operating its own projects, RIJ (after careful selection and with regular monitoring) works with experienced local, smaller NGOs to fund and implement their projects, whether that’s providing human-rights training to refugee communities on the Thai-Myanmar border, or supporting women in Jordan’s sprawling Za’atari Refugee Camp to both inform their communities and empower themselves.
The key word in all RIJ’s work is “sustainability.” The organisation’s projects are not designed to provide temporary aid, but to enable refugees to rediscover their old skills or learn new ones in order to live a dignified, independent life in their place of refuge, or in preparation for returning home. As participants of the evening noted, this method of operations differs from that of many larger international aid organisations, and thereby allows RIJ to pursue greater accountability from the projects they fund.
But why should we care about people so far away? As Jane noted, one answer is that, island geography aside, Japan is closer to refugees than it thinks. In an increasingly globalised world, international conflict and people displacement has a ripple effect on societies and economies everywhere; thus, it benefits everyone to support refugees and all those affected by violence. But the more poignant response may be that it is because we can genuinely make a difference. Just as people are forced to flee their homes due to the actions of others, they can also be assisted to recover from trauma and renew their lives through our actions. To illustrate this point, we ended with a selection of images from RIJ’s recent projects, including a currently-funded art project fostering kinship and understanding between Turkish and Syrian refugee children in Gaziantep, Turkey. With the project now in its second year, many of last year’s youth participants have chosen to become facilitators for the second round, ensuring that this project and the sense of community it generates will last long beyond RIJ’s funding.
Thus, as Jane made clear, while the human problems of the world are great, they can be solved if we have the courage, drive and creativity to do so – and fortunately, this is a maxim which motivates both RIJ and the RSA Fellows.
James Lawler is an intern at Refugees International Japan.
To find out more about the work of Refugees International Japan or to make a donation, visit