November 26, 2016 7:15 am JST

Japan steps up efforts to ensure safety of outbound students

TOKYO -- Recent concerns over the safety of Japanese students abroad have prompted efforts by the government and universities to help students enroll in an emergency contact system.

Some Japanese students -- such as Ryo Izaki, a university student killed while on leave in Colombia this month -- travel during breaks or in other circumstances under which their schools may not have full knowledge of their movements. Hence, under a new plan, universities will obtain the consent of students planning to study abroad and collect their contact information. The schools will pass this information to the nonprofit Japanese Council for the Safety of Overseas Students, which will register the students for them. The council, which also holds seminars on crisis preparedness, will cooperate with its 158 member institutions.

The foreign ministry started operating the emergency contact system in 2014. Users can input their destinations and contact information on the system's website, and in the event of a crisis, they will receive text messages or phone calls from Japanese diplomatic missions near them.

In the July terror attack on Nice in the south of France, registered students traveling in the area had their safety confirmed quickly and communicated to their schools and families in Japan. According to the foreign ministry, roughly 1.35 million people have registered since the system's launch. Many registrants are tourists, but around 320,000 have been students studying abroad or international business travelers.

After the deaths of seven Japanese nationals in the July hostage crisis in Bangladesh, the education ministry urged universities to keep their students informed and using the system. Even though many schools teach their students about the system, they "leave the actual registration up to the students," according to a university official. Many cases slip through the cracks.

Izaki, who was shot to death by thieves in Colombia Nov. 19, was on temporary leave from Tokyo's Hitotsubashi University to travel in developing countries. The university states that all students studying abroad at partner schools are required to take a course on crisis preparedness. They could not confirm whether Izaki had taken the course or registered with the emergency contact system.

Overseas travel is "becoming more multifaceted," said an official at the education ministry, adding that because of this, the government would like universities to stress the importance of crisis preparedness to all incoming students.

(Nikkei)

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