• Kyodo

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A Palestinian-Japanese woman is leading a project linking Japanese victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami with refugees in war-ravaged Syria.

Maiko Sato, 34, launched the project to send blankets and clothes that were donated to people in the Tohoku region but have gone unused to Syrians driven out of their homes by the civil war.

Sato came up with the idea when she visited temporary housing in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures for a nongovernmental organization and heard some victims saying they hoped to repay the people who gave them support.

She thought that sending emergency goods to others in need would not only help the Syrians, but also serve as an opportunity for Tohoku people to reciprocate for the generosity shown to them.

Sato’s father was a Palestinian, while her Japanese mother was a photographer active in the Middle East. Sato lived in east Jerusalem until she moved to Sapporo at age 3.

She said that because she is part Arab she felt that the suffering of Syrians was her business.

She launched the project with Takahiro Utsumi, 29.

With the enthusiastic support of people in Tohoku who helped collect and pack relief items, they filled three 10-ton trucks and one 4-ton truck, and sent the supplies in January to Turkey, where many Syrian people have sought refuge, Sato said.

They raised funds online to cover the cost of transporting the goods from Tohoku to Narita International Airport and pay for customs clearance.

Turkish Airlines flew the relief supplies to Turkey for free, according to Sato.

The goods were delivered to Syrian refugees living in camps near the Turkey-Syria border with the support of a Turkish nongovernmental organization called Kimse Yok Mu.

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