History of Refugees International Japan

RIJ was formed in 1979 at the end of a decade of turmoil around the world. More than one million people were fleeing the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos triggering an international humanitarian crisis and putting severe strain on the resources of the receiving countries.

In early 1979 a number of foreign residents in Tokyo came together out of mutual concern for these refugees and sought to find a way to make a difference. Capitalizing on the publicity generated by the G 7 summit taking place in Tokyo, the group used advertisements and the press to shift the attention of the world to the plight of refugees and successfully used the media to appeal to visiting heads of state, and the world, for help. By the end of 1979, they had joined up with other individuals in Tokyo who were raising money and collecting supplies for refugees in Thailand, and RIJ was born.

One of the founding members of RIJ continued her efforts when she returned to live in the USA. Refugees International was later established as a private, non-profit organization which strives to ensure that refugee rights and refugees issues are promoted through publicity, public education, advocacy and lobbying. Refugees International Japan and Refugees International are, by virtue of their shared historical origins, ‘sister’ organizations that support a common cause but each has developed independently of the other and operates autonomously with separate and distinct policies, agendas, and management.

Though initially RIJ’s work was focused mostly on advocacy, in 1981, the organization began funding projects and this quickly became our primary mandate. Until 1994, Thailand remained the main beneficiary country of RIJ funding and Asia the major beneficiary region. Yet RIJ’s efforts to aid refugees in regions with new crises and pressing needs slowly but gradually shifted to a more diverse geographical reach. From 1995, the focus of RIJ funding was not limited to an area but rather, followed universal refugee movements and covered Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East according to need. Careful research, project planning and allocation of funds have successfully made RIJ a truly “international” organization.

Over the years, the diversity of organizations to which RIJ contributes has grown. Rather than funnel money to a few select organizations, RIJ has been diligent in funding groups with worthy projects, regardless of whether they are large international NGOs or small local ones. The focus of these projects has been comprehensive, from providing new mothers with essential items to promoting single female heads of household as well as providing proper sanitation and resources; providing empowerment and resources for displaced communities to live better lives. The aim is to ensure rights that every person should be entitled to – basic education, proper health services, the right for children to be children, sanitary living conditions, as well as a good nutrition.

In recent years RIJ has shifted project funding towards education, training, empowerment and psycho-social support; projects that aim to develop skills and opportunities for refugees and IDPs so that they can provide for themselves are create an environment of self-sufficiency, motivation to improve their lives and rebuild peaceful communities upon returning home.

As of January 2016 RIJ has supported over 840 projects in 50 countries and distributed over US$11.2 million.