Japan made an $8 million apology to its former 'comfort women'

GlobalPost
Supporters in Seoul carry the portraits of Korean women who were made sex slaves by the Japanese military, August 14, 2013.
Kim Hong-Ji

NEED TO KNOW:

Sorry seems to be the hardest word. And one of the most expensive. Apologizing has just cost Japan more than $8 million, a sum it has agreed to stump up in compensation to Korean women forced into sex slavery for the pleasure of Japanese soldiers deployed to occupy their country before and during World War II. 

That's the total on paper, anyway. We can only imagine what it cost Japan's nationalist prime minister, Shinzo Abe — a man who has previously refused to admit that Japanese authorities had anything to do with coercing so-called "comfort women" — to offer a "heartfelt apology" to those still living today. Out of tens of thousands of women pressed into military brothels across the occupied Korean peninsula from the 1930s until 1945, 46 survivors remain alive and known in South Korea. Many thousands more, including some Chinese, Southeast Asian, European and Japanese women, are unidentified, dead, or both. 

Japan has said sorry to them, with varying degrees of heartfelt-ness, on a few occasions before. But it has dragged its heels over acknowledging official responsibility, or offering official compensation. This time, 70 years after the defeat of the Japanese empire, Tokyo agreed to Seoul's request for reparations. The deal announced today puts a "final and irreversible" end to the decades of dispute, according to Abe, who says he doesn't want future generations to have to keep apologizing. This agreement, he insists, ushers in a "new era" for two of the United States' closest allies in Asia.

Like "sorry," that's easier said than achieved. 

WANT TO KNOW:

The migrants risking their lives to cross Europe's increasingly fortified borders on leaky boats don't want to be on them. (Forgive us for stating the obvious, but some people are hard of hearing.) They don't want to endanger themselves or their children by undertaking long, illegal journeys. They'd far rather enter the European Union through the front door than the back. 

Until now, one way to do so has been something called a family reunification visa. If one person is granted asylum in an EU country, their immediate family members are guaranteed the right to join them there. That guarantee still stands, on paper. But faced with the biggest influx of asylum-seekers in recent history, more and more countries are finding more and more ways to put off delivering the papers that would allow refugee families to reunite.

Critics say that adding restrictions drives those left behind — often the most vulnerable — to resort to more dangerous means of entry. Some of the refugees who GlobalPost spoke to in Turkey said that was their case.

"I don't think I can wait much longer," said one, whose 15-year-old son made the risky crossing from Turkey to a Greek island and then on to Germany. "I miss him so I go to bed crying... I may go by boat instead."

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Syrians and Iraqis aren't the only people placing all their hopes in boats. On another continent, in the vast bay that separates India and Southeast Asia, "sailing season" has begun. If that phrase conjures up images of tropical jaunts and boat shoes, it shouldn't. Sailing season is the annual peak of the world's other refugee crisis, when thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar and Bangladesh by sea.

Many die at sea. Those who do not are often swept into human trafficking rings. But the risk is deemed worth it among the many Rohingya who decide the danger is preferable to remaining in their homeland. In Myanmar, the Rohingya have been subjected to ethnic cleansing, mob massacres and a government that dismisses them as invaders from Bangladesh. There are laws to restrict their movements, the number of children they can have and their ability to vote. 

But Aung San Suu Kyi's party won Myanmar's elections last month, right? Won't things get better? Not any time soon. An associate of the pro-democracy icon has said that the Rohingya and their plight are not a priority.

Meanwhile, tired of waiting, thousands more will take their chances on the boats.