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Opinion: Japan should be proud of nationals helping people in warzones

Jeremie Bodin, General Director, Medecins Sans Frontieres Japan

"Is it safe?"

    This is a common question people ask about what it's like for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF; "Doctors Without Borders") medical and non-medical Japanese staff members to work in active conflict zones.

    The answer is, "Yes, it's as safe as possible, and more people's lives would be in danger if they weren't there."

    We at MSF work under the protection of international humanitarian law (IHL) to provide lifesaving emergency care to anyone in need. IHL provides the legal basis for all of our work in conflict areas, and stipulates that the provision of healthcare and medical facilities is neutral and must not be targeted in times of war. If MSF is not present, people in need often have no access to emergency healthcare at all.

    We are also committed to speaking out when populations are denied access to medical care or grave humanitarian abuses occur, such as the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar's Rakine state.

    In addition, MSF has built up nearly 50 years of experience and expertise in security management. From the existing conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan, to the war in Yugoslavia and genocide in Rwanda, MSF has learned from and adapted to very different cultural contexts and situations.

    Last year, MSF was in charge of 163 projects in conflict zones, including the Central African Republic, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While that may seem like a large number, it only accounts for 35 percent of our total international medical projects in 2017.

    In every location where MSF works, we also speak with authorities and groups that have influence in the local communities to ensure that we have the freedom to work unhindered, and are able to uphold our principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality. This means we can also communicate with groups that oppose official authorities or governments as we do not take sides in conflicts.

    Of course, working in instable areas and conflict zones does not come without risk. We have witnessed the tragic results that occur when the principles of IHL are ignored.

    Last month marked three years since the bombing of our hospital in Abs, Yemen, where fighting is still on-going. Still, such awful, illegal events do not shake the commitment of our staff to enter battle zones to reach those in the most need of help.

    Japanese society should be proud of the dedication and professionalism shown by its nationals who travel abroad to alleviate suffering and save the lives of others. Since 1992, MSF Japan has sent Japanese staff over 1,000 times to missions across the world. The commitment and skills of these Japanese nations are appreciated wherever they go. Yet, despite having one of the 'strongest' passports in the world, Japanese society has been reluctant to allow them to travel to the places where they are most needed.

    It is essential that Japan's long-standing commitment to universal health coverage is demonstrated, and that those who provide medical care for others, wherever they live and whatever situation they are facing may be, are truly valued and fully supported.

    (By Jeremie Bodin, General Director, Medecins Sans Frontieres Japan)

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