BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government approved a revised bill Tuesday that allows the Self-Defense Forces to evacuate foreign nationals in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency in a foreign country, even when there are no Japanese evacuees.
The bill comes after the SDF was dispatched to Afghanistan in late August to evacuate Japanese nationals following the takeover of the country by the Taliban. The SDF evacuated one Japanese national and 14 Afghan workers at the embassy and other organizations.
At present, the SDF law allows foreign nationals to be evacuated on planes when there are also Japanese nationals on board, but the revision will allow the SDF to evacuate non-Japanese even if that is not the case. The amendment also allows the SDF to use its transport planes, in contrast to the current law, which calls for the use of government aircraft.
“(The revision) will allow (the SDF) to transport Japanese nationals and others quickly and flexibly when there are various emergency situations overseas in the future,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a news conference Tuesday.
The bill was submitted to parliament later in the day, and it is expected to clear the legislature during the current session, which ends in June.
A contentious issue is whether the SDF aircraft can be dispatched when the security situation on the ground is fluid. Part 4 of Article 84 of the SDF law allows an SDF dispatch on the condition that the transport mission can be conducted safely.
But the revision stipulates that the SDF aircraft can be dispatched “when it is possible to take measures to avoid the anticipated danger.”
“We will analyze the situation and make an overall decision,” Kishi said,in reference to when and how decisions on evacuation missions would be made.
In August, Japan dispatched SDF aircraft to evacuate up to 500 people in Afghanistan, including Japanese nationals and Afghan workers at its embassy. But the SDF was only able to rescue a fraction of those individuals after the security situation deteriorated in Kabul.
Responding to domestic and international criticism of the evacuation, Japan got around the legal restriction by turning to Qatar, which arranged for commercial planes to bring Afghan refugees to Japan. Seeking assistance from another country to help with an evacuation is permissible under the SDF law.
By mid-November, 395 staff members and their families had arrived in Japan as temporary evacuees, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that month.
Tuesday’s amendment means that Japan will no longer have to seek assistance from a third-party country when it comes to evacuations of foreign nationals if it has the ability to carry them out by itself.