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Japan Inc. steps up fast to offer support to Ukraine refugees

  • March 5, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 2:15 p.m.
  • English Press

RURIKA IMAHASHI, Nikkei staff writer

 

TOKYO — Japanese companies are mobilizing to help Ukrainians who are fleeing the ongoing war, prompted by a government decision that Japan would accept refugees from the country.

 

Pan Pacific International Holdings, which operates the Don Quijote discount chain, on Thursday announced it will accept 100 households of Ukrainian refugees.

 

The company will provide families with financial assistance, everyday life support and job opportunities. “We hope the chain of support for Ukrainian refugees will further expand,” it said in a statement.

 

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan, notorious for closing its border to refugees, would accept those from Ukraine.

 

More than 1 million people fled Ukraine in the first week after Russia’s brutal invasion, heading to neighboring countries like Poland, Hungary and the Republic of Moldova, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR estimates that 4 million Ukrainians might flee their homeland in the coming weeks and months.

 

The country had a population of 44 million before the war.

 

Human rights groups welcome the Don Quijote operator’s prompt commitment.

 

“Refugee support has long been considered [the domain of] the United Nations, governments, lawyers and support groups,” a representative for Welgee, a nonprofit refugee support organization, told Nikkei Asia. But the welcome mat being rolled out by Pan Pacific shows “there are things companies can do.”

 

Other Japanese companies are joining the movement.

 

Fast Retailing, which runs the Uniqlo casual attire chain, on Friday announced that it will donate 200,000 clothing items and $10 million to UNHCR to support the humanitarian aid effort for Ukrainian refugees. The items include its Heattech blankets and innerwear, AIRism masks and winter gear collected at Uniqlo stores in Japan through the company’s clothing recycling program.

 

From 2006 to August 2021, Fast Retailing collected more than 46 million articles of used clothing at its stores and donated them to refugees. As of last April, the company was employing 120 refugees at stores around the world. “Going forward,” the company said in a statement, “Fast Retailing will continue to work with UNHCR and stand with people forced to flee.”

 

Rakuten Group, which runs one of Japan’s largest online shopping platforms, was also quick to respond to the Ukraine crisis.

 

The company on Monday began accepting online donations and asked customers to use their reward points to pay for humanitarian aid. It also began accepting donations via Rakuten credit cards and transfers to its subsidiary bank. So far it has received 550 million yen ($4.76 million) worth of donations.

 

In a statement, Rakuten said the money will be used to provide refugees with drinking water, other supplies and health services, and to protect children. The aid will go through the Ukrainian government and the Japan Committee for UNICEF, Rakuten said.

 

The e-commerce group operates an office in Odessa, a port city on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

 

CEO Hiroshi Mikitani on Sunday announced he would personally donate 1 billion yen ($8.7 million) to the Ukrainian government. “I will continue to provide support to Ukraine and its people,” he said in a statement. “I stand with Ukraine.”

 

Keidanren, Japan’s big business lobby, on Thursday called on companies to cooperate with the country’s humanitarian assistance drive for Ukraine.

 

Western companies are also ramping up support.

 

Airbnb, the big U.S.-based room-sharing platform, on Monday announced it would offer free, short-term housing to up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine.

 

French cosmetics group L’Oreal said it has started to deliver hygiene products to NGOs in Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Ukraine. It intends to deliver 300,000 hygiene products to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

British consumer goods giant Unilever on Thursday said it was working toward donating 5 million euros ($5.5 million) worth of food, personal care and hygiene products to those impacted by the war.

 

While welcoming these corporate moves, Yukie Osa, a humanitarian aid expert and professor at Tokyo’s Rikkyo University, said attention and aid should be given beyond Ukraine to those displaced by other conflicts, too.

“There are also people out there, in Syria and in Myanmar, who are facing difficulties and humanitarian crises,” she said. “What governments and companies are doing right now shouldn’t be done just for Ukraine.

 

“I hope this crisis convinces more people to give the same level of support and attention to other humanitarian causes.”

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