Geçmiş Olsun Türkiye: Get Well Soon, Türkiye
A huge international effort has mobilised to provide support to Türkiye and Syria in the wake of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Türkiye, 50 miles from the Syrian border, on the 6th of February. Hours later, a second earthquake struck nearby with a 7.5 magnitude, adding to the utter devastation of the wider region. The scale of this duo of disasters shocked the world, with the death toll now over 17,000 and the numbers of those who have lost their lives expected to grow as we get a clearer picture of the damage caused by one of the worst earthquakes to hit the region in at least a century.
The Syrian war that has tormented the region for the past 11 years on both sides of the border, has to date resulted in an estimated 3.6 million Syrian refugees settled in Türkiye as of the end of 2022, more than in any other country. For the individuals who have been displaced, it seems that the nightmare is never-ending.
Tanya Evans, the IRC’s Syria country director, states: “Many in northwest Syria have been displaced up to 20 times, and with health facilities strained beyond capacity, even before this tragedy many did not have access to the health care they critically need.”
And the threat to the lives of the survivors is ongoing. Images emerging from many of the worst affected areas show rescuers desperately trying to find and reach those still alive but buried under rubble. Hundreds of people are stuck without heating or electricity, sleeping on the floor in sub-zero temperatures, amid aftershocks of the earthquake in a tent city for survivors in Sanliurfa, Türkiye. There was even footage of a rescue of a baby who was born under the rubble.
The newborn girl was found buried more than 10 hours after the earthquake struck with her umbilical cord still connected to her mother, who did not survive. The doctor treating her said she had been born about three hours before being rescued by residents. WHO spokesperson, Dr. Margaret Harris warned: “Babies will be born in the next few days to people who are sheltering in cars, who are in dire situations and that is not a situation you want a child to be in.”
It’s truly a race against time to reach those alive but trapped, and the rescue efforts have been hampered by the harsh weather conditions. Türkiye’s government has declared a state of emergency in the affected regions of the country. President Erdogan said shortly after it hit that it was a time for the country to be “together as one heart.” However, residents in several damaged Turkish cities have voiced anger and despair at what they said was a slow and inadequate response by the authorities.
Despite the sheer scale of the disaster, there are moments of hope. Rescuers in Türkiye saved a 14-month-old infant from the rubble, some 33 hours after the quake. The child, Arya, will be reunited with her twin Azra, local sources reported.
For two years, I (Sara Firth) lived and worked in Gaziantep as a journalist and called the historic city home. During those years, I would often travel to Hatay and cross the border reporting in opposition-held Syria. Those areas across the border have long been in desperate need of aid and support. The earthquake, for this region and those living there, is a humanitarian catastrophe on top of humanitarian catastrophe.
There are four million people living in opposition-held Syria, who, even before this latest tragedy hit, had been left in many cases with almost nothing. These are people, families, children who fled regime areas and survived regime bombs and bullets only to find themselves battling the cruel reality of living as an internally displaced person in their own country with horrendous living conditions and little access to basic needs like housing and healthcare.
A video from Syria’s first responders, known as the White Helmets, shows rescuers pulling people from under the rubble, this time not as a result of airstrikes but due to the earthquake. Their resources are limited and the scale of the challenge they face right now is immense. As their teams work around the clock to try and save those trapped, The White Helmets said “the Syrian people are counting on international support”
It’s difficult to watch what’s unfolding right now from a distance, but there are things that can be done. The IRC states “Funding is urgently needed to help people affected by the earthquakes survive this crisis and begin their recovery.” Meanwhile, Amnesty International declared: “The international community must immediately mobilise resources to support the rescue and rehabilitation efforts in northern Syria.”
The Turkish embassy in London has provided links to Türkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management-AFAD, Turkish Red Crescent, and Türkiye Diyanet Foundation, for those who wish to donate. In Syria, The Syrian Civil Defence-The White Helmets and Violet Organisation all do incredible work on the ground as does Türkiye’s IHH organisation and all will need support now more than ever. And across the UK, local Turkish communities are also gathering supplies such as blankets and warm clothes in aid drives aimed at providing assistance to the huge number of people who have been left without homes and shelter as a result of the earthquake.
With countries around the world mobilising rescue teams and committing resources, it is both fitting and right that the international community does everything it can to provide support to those affected in both countries right now. We must come together in solidarity to give the very best possible chance to those trapped and fighting for their lives and those working so tirelessly to save them.
Sara Firth & Roxanna Azimy
Sara is a Freelance Foreign Correspondent who has reported on breaking international news, including the wars in Ukraine and Syria, for many major news outlets including The Guardian, Al Jazeera, TRT, and The Huffington Post.
Roxanna is a Senior Account Manager at Global Office Consulting who has written speeches, articles, and books on behalf of activists, political figures, and academics in the field of human rights, equality, and health.