July 7, 2010
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is exploring the possibility of assisting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon for the first time.
JICA President Mrs. Sadako Ogata mentioned the possibility but did not spell out the specifics of any new help when she addressed a recent public forum in Tokyo on Middle East peace prospects and the plight of Palestinian refugees.
JICA officials said any such help would be at some unspecified time in the future.
A project caring for Palestinian mothers and their children. JICA/Kenshiro Imamura
JICA is already active in the region and has undertaken maternal care and education projects for Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Palestine and Syria. One project to develop a mother and child health care handbook has been so popular it is now being extended to Palestinian refugee camps located in Syria.
JICA is also involved in the so-called Corridor for Peace and Prosperity in the strategic Jordan Valley which straddles Israel and Jordan.
Launched by Japan in 2006, that project aims to improve the region’s important agricultural base with the establishment of an agro-industrial park and a related water resources development plan with the aim of both strengthening regional economic activity and, hopefully, promoting greater understanding and cooperation between the various parties.
There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, about half of them living in 12 established camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Over several decades these camps have become almost permanent towns and between them house around 75 schools, 29 primary health centers and a series of women’s projects.
Any future JICA’s assistance would focus on the camp refugees, some of whom have been living there since the 1948 conflict with Israel which sparked the mass exodus of Palestinians not only to surrounding Arab states but also as far afield as Australian and the United States.
A Japanese volunteer teaches sports to Palestinian refugee children in Jordan
At the same meeting in Tokyo, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi urged Japan not only to provide continuing financial assistance to Palestinian refugees but to constructively use its position as a ‘neutral’ observer to further the cause of peace in the region.
He said he was struck by the number of Japanese volunteers he saw whenever he toured the region and their immediate ‘acceptance’ by local communities.
Currently, there are 29 JOCV volunteers working in Jordan and Syrian refugee camps, principally as teachers in camp schools.