Japanese Foreign Minister to bring back 20 Ukrainian evacuees from Poland

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi was due to return to Japan with 20 Ukrainian evacuees aboard a government plane on Tuesday after concluding a visit to Poland as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s special envoy.

“We have decided that 20 evacuees, who want to go to Japan but cannot find transportation on their own, will board a relief government plane when I return to Japan,” Hayashi told reporters on Monday before to leave the capital Warsaw.

Hayashi was visiting the Eastern European country 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 were expected to discuss Tokyo’s plan to airlift evacuees from war-torn Ukraine to Japan.

Skyrocketing airfares following the Russian invasion made Ukrainians in Poland reluctant to travel to Japan even if they wanted to, according to people familiar with the matter.

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

The Japanese minister also exchanged views with staff from international organizations such as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at 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.

On 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 on Saturday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference on Monday.

Kishida originally planned to send Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa to Poland, but decided to send Hayashi instead because Furukawa turned out to be a close contact of a family member infected with the coronavirus.

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