On February 6, a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southeast Türkiye and northwest Syria, resulting in over 50,000 deaths, 130,000 injured, and millions displaced in a sub-zero winter. A fortnight later, a third 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck, resulting in an additional 308 casualties. Three months later, the situation remains dire.
CW: death, Türkiye-Syria earthquakes
On February 6, two powerful 7.8 and 7.7 magnitude earthquakes hit southeast Türkiye and northwest Syria, resulting in over 50,000 deaths, 130,000 injured, and millions displaced in a sub-zero winter. A fortnight later, a third 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck, resulting in further casualties.
Almost three months later, the situation remains dire. While some families have found refuge with relatives situated in the western provinces, the Turkish government reports almost 2.2 million still living in refugee camps, many of which were struck by flash flooding in mid-March, resulting in another 20 deaths.
Worsening the impact, Syria received minimal external financial support due to international sanctions, and Türkiye received approximately $185 million USD from US federal agencies, the equivalent of roughly $7.50 USD for each of the approximately 25 million impacted residents. In contrast, the Biden administration has pledged more than $100 billion USD to aid the crisis in Ukraine.
The earthquakes have also had a distressing impact on the global Turkish and Syrian diasporas, with many abroad having had little to no contact with their relatives in the immediate aftermath of the quakes.
Three Australians were confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Türkiye, and many across Melbourne’s Turkish and Syrian communities are still mourning the loss of friends and relatives.
In Broadmeadows, hundreds gathered on February 10th for a vigil in memory of the quake’s victims, with attendees sharing their pain and frustration about the situation, bemoaning feelings of helplessness.
"We want to be able to help," said Zeliha Kaya, a 21-year-old local resident who spoke to The Age at the event, "but because we're so far away, it's so hard to do anything."
In a statement, the University of Melbourne Turkish Society described the “tremendous toll, both physical and emotional” that the past few months have had on members of their community.
“As can be imagined, hearing and witnessing the accounts of loved ones injured or homes impacted is no easy experience, especially when physically distant from the area. A number of our members and loved-ones had experienced the tremors first-hand and really can only describe it as a shocking, scary and eye-opening experience… It is an important time to show more love and gratitude to your circle and reflect.”
University of Melbourne Associate Professor Said Ajlouni, who migrated from Syria over two decades ago, still has the rest of his family living there. After 12 years of civil war, which left two-thirds of the country’s infrastructure and many hospitals destroyed, Ajlouni described the earthquake as having “finished off what hadn’t been finished before.”
“It’s heartbreaking when you watch the news, seeing [the] White Helmets and other rescuers using their bare hands and no equipment,” Ajlouni said.
Like many others with loved ones in Syria, Ajlouni struggled to send aid to his family.
“I wanted to send money to my sister and went to the Western Union, but they charged a high fee,” he said.
“At the end of the day we are human, I expected this agency would have soft hearts and try to help. Unfortunately, they didn’t.”
The earthquake-affected region in Syria’s northwest is also still mired by political instability and conflict, and previous sanctions led by the US have also hindered the process of delivering aid to victims. However, the US did grant a 180-day exemption to Syria’s sanctions to expedite the delivering of post-earthquake disaster relief to the victims.
“[Syrians] deserve aid,” Ajlouni said.
Ajlouni recommended that people donate to the Australian Syrian Association, who are currently running a campaign to send new clothes to the earthquake victims.
“On top of that you can also donate to the Human Appeal Australia, it is a trust[worthy] organisation,” he said.
The University of Melbourne Turkish Society also asked readers to “consider donating to the Australian Red Cross’ Türkiye-Syria Earthquakes Appeal” to help support the relief efforts in both countries.
Organisations contributing to the Türkiye-Syria earthquake relief efforts:
Australian Red Cross Türkiye-Syria Earthquakes Appeal
Australian Syrian Association
Australian Human Appeal
Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2023_Gaziantep-Kahramanmara%C5%9F_earthquakes_Osmaniye_01.png