Table Speech

“Rotary Foundation Month” Meeting
“Rotary Foundation Alumni Actively Involved as UNHCR Officers”

November 4, 2009

Ms. Megumi Nakamura
Acting Executive Director
Japan Association for UNHCR

 During my 11-year-career (1989-2000) as the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) officer, I was honored to work with the 8th High Commissioner Ms. Sadako Ogata from 1991 to 2000. Ever since I left UNHCR, I have been working for the Japan Association for UNHCR (NPO) which supports UNHCR activities.

 Ms. Ogata left professorship at Sophia University, Department of International Politics, to take her office in Geneva in February 1991. Her enthusiasm and determination inspired me to pursue my career path. Ms. Ogata often taught us to have “burning heart and cool mind.” At present, many staff members cherish her spirit and work hard in the field of humanitarian assistance.

 Today, let me talk about 8 Japanese female UNHCR officers over the world, who have studied as Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship students or World Peace Fellows. All of them asked me to convey their gratitude to Rotary Clubs. Being a former Rotary scholar myself, it is my sincere wish to tell how grateful we all are, as I introduce various initiatives implemented by UNHCR.

1.Emergency Assistance
UNHCR provides emergency assistance for man-made disasters, such as persecutions and conflicts. However when serious natural disasters hit the area of field offices, UNHCR goes beyond the conventional humanitarian assistance to take further steps in undertaking emergency assistance.

 Ms. Mai Hosoi was sent from UNHCR headquarters to the cyclone-stricken area in Myanmar as emergency assistance staff from May to July 2008. We are grateful that Tokyo Rotary Club, along with other clubs throughout Japan, has kindly made donations to assist the cyclone victims. Ms. Hosoi’s determination to work for people forced to evacuate is based on her own experience of the 1995 Great Hanshin and Awaji Earthquake. Sponsored by Kobe RC, she studied in the US as World Peace Fellow in 2003. She currently works at the UNHCR Geneva Headquarters.

 Ms. Jun Shirato studied in the US (1995), sponsored by Saitama Koshigaya RC. She has worked in various offices, including Turkey, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Angola, Armenia, Sudan and Ukraine. During the outbreak of 2008 South Ossetia conflict in Georgia, she provided emergency assistance to those who took refuge in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and gave on-the-spot information to us.

2.Protection of Refugees and IDP (Internally Displaced Persons)
 UNHCR plays a significant role in protecting refugees and IDP.

 Ms. Yoko Akasaka studied in the US (1992), sponsored by Osaka Tondabayashi RC. She joined UNHCR in 1997 and has worked in Ukraine, Moldova, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. As Senior Protection Officer, she is currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. The security situation is deteriorating rapidly there, but I was relieved to receive an email message from her telling me she is still OK.

3.Local Reintegration of Returnee
 UNHCR also contributes to restoring the returnees’ former lifestyles.

 Ms. Yukiko Kamiyama majored in International Refugee Law in Australia (2001), sponsored by Gifu North RC, and was motivated to work for refugees. Currently based in Afghanistan, she is engaged in a demanding duty to assist local reintegration of returnees from Pakistan.

4.Assisting Repatriation and Resettlement
 UNHCR assistance targets both repatriation and resettlement.

 Ms. Noriko Yoshida is the representative of the South Sudan Juba office since 2008, providing assistance for resettlement. As she was reluctantly studying for her university entrance exams, she was shocked to learn that refugees didn’t even have a chance to study. This made her think how to help refugees, motivating her to work for UNHCR. She studied in the US (1988), sponsored by Kyoto Fukuchiyama RC. She has worked in Nigeria, Sudan, Geneva headquarters, Cote d’Ivoire, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

5. Peace Building
 The ultimate goal of UNHCR activities is peace building.

 Ms. Masako Yoneyama studied in UK (1990), sponsored by Hyogo Takarazuka RC. Since 1996, she has worked in Rwanda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Geneva headquarters, Indonesia, and was the leader to launch the South Sudan office. She is currently the JICA visiting expert and undertakes peace building in Africa. She loves the Congo, a country of good-natured people and abundant nature, and is dedicated to assist development to achieve peace-building.

6.Coordinating UNHCR offices
 There are 110 UNHCR offices around the world. Ms. Machiko Kondo studied in the US (1973), sponsored by Saitama Oomiya RC. Since 1983, she has worked in Geneva headquarters, Somalia, Pakistan and Indonesia and was the representative in Bangladesh and Sweden. She ended her 24-year-career as an international civil servant in 2007, but is willing to render assistance anytime if requested.

7.What Japan can do for refugee assistance
Before concluding, let me touch upon the Japan Association for UNHCR. I studied in Normandy, France (1989), sponsored by Chiba Matsudo RC. Since 1989, I have worked in Geneva, Tokyo and Myanmar. I transferred to Japan Association for UNHCR when it was founded in 2000. This Association engages in fund-raising and public relations to support the UN refugee assistance activities. Background support is vital for humanitarian assistance activities in the frontline.

 Thanks to your generosity, the Rotary scholars learnt international friendship, and were given chances to engage in international humanitarian assistance. We all agree that the Rotary scholarship led the path to our career as UNHCR officers. Let me express our sincere gratitude once again from all of us.