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The International Organization for Migration has launched a program in Japan to help foreigners hard-hit by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami to leave the country, its office in Tokyo said Saturday.

The group has helped more than 100 foreigners leave Japan since the disaster and its “liaison mission” in Tokyo said it estimates the number who potentially need its support at several thousand in ravaged areas in the Tohoku region.

It is the first time the Geneva-based organization, which provides assistance to refugees and others having difficulties returning to their homelands, has started such a program in Japan following a disaster.

The assistance is targeted at foreigners who were living in Aomori, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures when the disaster hit and were “directly affected” by the quake, tsunami or the radiation threat caused by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The group will help those whom it judges from a humanitarian viewpoint are in dire need of its support by shouldering the cost of transportation from their current shelter to the nearest airport and paying for one-way flights to their home countries.

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