Japan welcomes Burmese refugees

A Karen refugee boy in a camp on the Thai/Burma border
Image caption Many Karen have fled Burma because of armed conflict between the military and Karen rebels

Eighteen Burmese refugees have arrived in Japan from Thailand, marking a new turn in Japan's asylum policy.

It follows Japan's agreement to accept about 90 Burmese under a third country resettlement plan promoted by the UN.

The three ethnic minority Karen families have been living for 10 years in a camp in north-western Thailand after fleeing persecution in Burma.

Japan has been criticised in the past for allowing in far fewer refugees than other wealthy nations.


The BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says the refugees arrived at Tokyo's Narita airport wearing jackets against the autumn chill.

Japan says it is the first Asian country to take part in the UN-backed resettlement programme.

Japan is one of the world's most generous donors to refugees overseas, but gives scant welcome to asylum seekers at home, our correspondent says.

Last year just 30 people were granted refugee status. Another 501 received special residence permits on humanitarian grounds, but with fewer rights.

The Burmese refugees are expected to spend the next six months in Tokyo learning Japanese.

The government says if they integrate well into society it may consider allowing more refugees into the country.

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