Japanese aid groups suspend activities in Bangladesh

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Themorningbellbd.com Desk, July 4: After chilling details emerged from the hostage crisis, a Japanese man in Dhaka who works on Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) projects received frantic calls from his Bangladeshi colleagues and friends.

“Are you safe?” one of them asked. Another offered: “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The man said the calls made him happy amid the tragedy, and he vowed to press on with his aid work.

“At times like this, it has become all the more important to make efforts to contribute to the development (of Bangladesh),” he said.

But others have harbored different thoughts since seven Japanese were among those killed in the terrorist attack at a restaurant in the Bangladeshi capital.

Expressing horror, sadness and reluctance, some Japanese aid groups are suspending their activities in Bangladesh. Like the seven Japanese who died in the attack, these groups developed a strong fondness for the Bangladeshi people. Their work has included improving infrastructure and promoting education in what is considered one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Kobe-based nonprofit organization Kansai Bangladesh Project has been engaged in supplying electricity and supporting child education in the country for more than 30 years. Group members had visited Bangladesh once or twice a year.

However, the group decided to suspend the visits for the time being.

“The incident is unbelievable because we were under the impression that Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim country,” said the group’s representative, Sachiko Matsunaga, 76, who has visited the country more than 30 times.

“Bangladesh is really a pro-Japanese country,” she continued. “When Japanese visit, everyone is pleased.”

The group said it will continue to collect membership fees and donations and send them to its counterparts in Bangladesh, Matsunaga added.

Asia Arsenic Network (AAN), a Miyazaki-headquartered NPO, has been tackling groundwater pollution problems in Bangladesh for 20 years.

“We are concerned that it will become difficult for us to do our activities in the country,” the group’s director, Hiroshi Yokota, 73, said.

One group member is stationed in Dhaka while another works out of a local city.

“After I talk with them, I want to decide whether to summon them back to Japan,” Yokota said. “I am at a loss because such an incident (involving many Japanese) is a first (in Bangladesh).”

The AAN had been holding study tours to Bangladesh for Japanese high school and university students until several years ago.

“But it will be impossible to hold such tours again if the current situation continues there,” Yokota said.

This year, the AAN will suspend its program of accepting Japanese students as interns in Bangladesh, he added.

Tokyo-based NPO Shapla Neer has already curtailed its activities in Bangladesh in light of the security threat to its workers.

The group has been engaged in child education for Bangladeshi girls working as live-in maids.

“Bangladeshi people have strong hospitality,” the NPO’s Dhaka office director, Yukiko Fujisaki, 48, said. “They treat foreigners politely as guests.”

In 2015, an Italian and a Japanese, both involved in aid activities, were killed in separate incidents in Bangladesh.

Since then, Shapla Neer members have refrained from using public transportation in the capital or making business trips to rural areas.

Fujisaki said she believes the danger to Japanese aid workers increased after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January 2015 promised to provide $200 million (about 20 billion yen) in funds to Middle Eastern countries fighting the Islamic State militant group.

“Since that remark, Japanese people have been targeted by terrorists,” Fujisaki said. “In order to eradicate terrorism, we should devote our energy to measures to solve poverty.”

The man in Dhaka connected to JICA also had high praise for the Bangladeshi people in the country.

He said the calls he received from concerned colleagues were “really encouraging.” One caller apologized for the fact that Bangladeshi nationals were identified as the perpetrators of the assault.

On the morning of July 3, the man received a message from JICA’s Dhaka office, asking him to refrain from going out as much as possible.

However, he said the latest incident has not dampened his sense of mission.

“I think that the seven Japanese people who died came to Bangladesh with a passion for working for the country,” he said. “I do not want their enthusiasm to become meaningless.”

Source: The Asahi Shimbun

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