Japan’s foreign minister to bring back 20 Ukraine evacuees from Poland

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Monday that he is set to take 20 Ukrainian evacuees to Japan on a government plane when he finishes a trip to Poland later in the day.

“We have decided that 20 evacuees, who are wishing to travel to Japan but unable to secure means of transportation on their own, will get on a backup government plane when I return to Japan,” Hayashi told reporters before leaving the capital Warsaw.

Hayashi is on a visit to the Eastern European nation as a special envoy of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to support Ukrainians fleeing to Poland due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier Monday, Hayashi and his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau held talks in the Polish capital. They had been expected to discuss Tokyo’s plan of airlifting evacuees from war-torn Ukraine to Japan.

Skyrocketing airfares following Russia’s invasion have made Ukrainians in Poland reluctant to move to Japan even if they wish, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Hayashi on Sunday observed a border checkpoint and a refugee reception center in Medyka in southeastern Poland, where many Ukrainian refugees have been arriving, to see what aid Tokyo should provide to Ukrainian evacuees.

The Japanese minister also exchanged views with personnel of international organizations such as the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Japan’s temporary liaison office in Rzeszow, another southeastern city.

On Saturday, Hayashi met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, assuring him of Tokyo’s “firm resolve” to provide more humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.

As of Saturday, 4.17 million refugees had fled Ukraine since the start of the conflict, including 2.42 million to Poland, according to the UNHCR.

Japan had accepted 393 Ukrainian evacuees as of Saturday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a news conference Monday.

Kishida had initially planned to dispatch Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa to Poland but decided to send Hayashi instead because Furukawa was found to be a close contact of a family member infected with the coronavirus.

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