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Turkiye Turkey Syria Earthquake Emergency Appeal Islamic Relief
Image: Emergency shelters being erected in Syria for families who have lost everything

Our decade-long established team in Syria responded to this week’s earthquake

On Monday 6th February, two devastating earthquakes of 7.8 and 7.7 magnitudes ravaged the regions of south-east Turkiye (Turkey) and north-west Syria.

The scenes from the ground have been harrowing, as images reveal search and rescue teams pulling both the injured and the dead from beneath the rubble of nearly 8,000 collapsed buildings across Turkiye and north-west Syria. 

According to latest reports, the combined death toll is already in excess of a staggering 21,000 people across the affected region, where millions of refugees and internally displaced people are already living in impoverished conditions. 

These earthquakes are the worst to affect Syria in over a century and they arrive in the midst of a harsh winter, where freezing temperatures are already compromising the lives of thousands of internally displaced people.

For more than a decade, Syria has been in the grip of what the UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has described as the “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time”. Currently, 4.1 million internally displaced people in north-west Syria rely on humanitarian aid (UN, 2023) due to years of debilitating violence and protracted conflict in the region. 

A barely functioning economy and extensive damage to infrastructure across the country has left 15.3 million Syrians in need (UN, 2023). 

Since the conflict began over 10 years ago, the ongoing political situation in Syria has presented a range of complex challenges for aid organisations trying to provide support to vulnerable populations in the country.

We have been working in north-west Syria for more than a decade

Islamic Relief has a substantial office and team established on the ground, who have been able to mobilise a rapid response to the earthquake disaster. The majority of our aid is bought from and supplied by local markets inside Syria and this is then supplemented by additional supplies from across the Turkish border. As we have been working in this well established way for over 10 years, we have been able to get much needed supplies out to those impacted by the disaster. 

Although the situation in Syria is immensely complex, Islamic Relief has committed to an ongoing response in the region, supporting all those who are in need, regardless of race, religion, gender and more. Alongside our emergency responses, our teams have established streams of support that meet the evolving needs of an internally displaced community comprising Syrian, Kurdish, and other diverse communities – our teams are dedicated to supporting all vulnerable people in need. 

Alongside our current emergency response, our projects in the north-west of Syria include the support of 82 hospitals and medical centres to help around 200,000 people, including the provision of medicines and supplies, raising awareness on Covid-19 prevention, supporting 150 doctors and nurses, and running mobile emergency units in order to bring healthcare to those most in need.

Against the backdrop of this natural disaster, the lack of working infrastructure in Syria is hampering efforts to reach some of those hit hard by the crisis. 

Ahmed Mahmoud, Islamic Relief’s Head of Mission in Turkiye and Syria, has been travelling across north-west Syria to coordinate distributions, having recently spent some time in some of the hardest hit areas in Turkiye. 

“As we work we can hear the screams of children who have been trapped under the rubble. People are leaving family members to guard the rubble of their homes so that stray dogs don’t take the bodies.   "Our staff have been up throughout last night putting up tents and setting up reception centres for homeless families. We delivered beds and mattresses to several hospitals so that they have space to treat more of the casualties. But the hospitals are overwhelmed and running out of supplies. For the large numbers of injured they urgently need more painkillers, ICU equipment, drugs and supplies for surgical operations and treating fractures – they basically need everything. For the dead, body bags are running out – a tragic reflection of how devastating these earthquakes have been. "Aid workers are exhausted – many have lost their own relatives yet are working around the clock to deliver aid. Emergency teams are still digging through the rubble and only stopping to bury the bodies. Our staff are grabbing a few moments of sleep in their cars in between distributions."

Ahmed Mahmoud, Islamic Relief’s Head of Mission in Turkiye and Syria

The number of lives lost and the number of those injured is expected to keep rising over the coming days and weeks.

The DEC, made up of 15 leading UK aid charities, is launching an emergency appeal to raise funds to help charities scale up their work and reach more of the millions of people affected. 

Approximately 16,980 people have already received support from our teams on the ground in Syria and Islamic Relief is continuing to distribute non-food items in Jindirse and Sharan in the Afrin district of Aleppo, and the areas of Salqin, Dana, Maaret Tamsrin and Qourqueen in Idlib. Support from the international community is paramount to prevent further devastation to the lives of millions who have already endured so much. As the situation on the ground evolves, our teams will be scaling up our humanitarian response in the coming days.

The world now holds its breath as the scale of the disaster continues to evolve into bleak and uncertain territory.

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