Türkiye-Syria earthquakes: Rescue phase 'coming to close'

World Tuesday 14/February/2023 15:28 PM
By: DW
Türkiye-Syria earthquakes: Rescue phase 'coming to close'

Ankara: United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths on Monday said the Türkiye and Syria earthquake rescue phase is nearing an end, with efforts now set to turn more towards recovery.

The two powerful earthquakes that struck border regions of the two countries last Monday have killed at least 35,000, with the UN expecting the number to rise to more than 50,000.

Griffiths, who made the comments during a visit to the devastated northern Syrian city of Aleppo, said the disaster response was reaching a turning point.

"The rescue phase is dragging live people out from the rubble and finding those who died in the rubble... that's coming to a close," he said. "Now the humanitarian phase, the urgency of providing shelter, psychosocial care, food, schooling, and a sense of the future for these people, that's our obligation now."

Griffiths drew particular attention to the plight of those in Aleppo, a major focal point in the Syrian civil war.

"What is the most striking here, is even in Aleppo, which has suffered so much these many years, this moment, that moment... was about the worst that these people have experienced," he added.

Griffiths also said the UN would have aid moving from government-held regions in Syria to the rebel-held northwest of the country.

He said that, so far, the world had failed to provide enough aid to Syria, with people there "looking for international help that hasn't arrived.''

"We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned,'' he said, adding, "My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can."

Syrian President Bashar Assad stressed the urgent need for aid to be delivered to all areas of the country, including territory held by the opposition, during a meeting with UN relief chief Martin Griffiths on Monday.

Later in the day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Assad had agreed to allow UN aid deliveries to opposition-held northwest Syria through two additional border crossings from Türkiye for three months.

International efforts should also focus on rebuilding the country's infrastructure, the Syrian president said in an official statement.

The devastating earthquake struck provinces under Assad's control, including Aleppo, Latakia and Hama. The last death toll posted by the Health Ministry on Sunday evening stood at 1,414.

But it also devastated opposition-held areas in the northwestern Idlib province, where resources are even more scarce. The Civil Defence Forces group, also known as the White Helmets, put the death toll on Monday evening at 2,274.

Media reports in recent days have suggested that the Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, which governs the opposition-held areas, has rejected aid arriving from the government, as well as from the Kurdish authorities in the northeast. The group reportedly said it would only allow in aid via Türkiye, with which it shares a single operational border crossing.

Monday's toll update brings the total death toll in Syria to nearly 3,700.

1.2 million left homeless in Türkiye
The devastating earthquakes in the Turkish-Syrian border region one week ago have left 1.2 million people in south-eastern Türkiye homeless, Türkiye's presidential office said.

Nearly 400,000 people have been evacuated from the earthquake zones, said the presidential office.

Meanwhile, inspections were being carried out by authorities to determine which buildings in the 10 affected provinces were still inhabitable.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 7,500 buildings had already collapsed or had to be urgently demolished, said Banu Aslan, director of the construction department.

Death toll tops 35,000
Figures put the latest death toll from the quakes at more than 35,000 on Monday, with search and rescue efforts starting to wind down.

Official and medical sources said that at least 31,643 people had died in Turkey and 3,688 in Syria, bringing the confirmed total to 35,331.

The first 7.8-magnitude quake struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, close to the Syrian border, followed by a 7.5-magnitude tremor.

The earthquakes reduced whole neighbourhoods of cities in southeastern Türkiye and northern Syria to rubble.

Rescue teams find more survivors
Rescuers have pulled more survivors from the rubble about a week after the quakes struck.

A 13-year-old boy was carried out on a stretcher alive after spending 182 hours under rubble in the Hatay province of Türkiye, state broadcaster TRT reported.

One crew plucked a six-year-old girl from the rubble of an apartment block in the southern Turkish city of Adiyaman some 178 hours after the first devastating quake that shook the region.  Broadcaster CNN Turk said rescuers were also close to reaching the girl's older sister.

Earlier, workers dragged a 40-year-old woman alive from a collapsed building on Monday, some 170 hours after the first of two quakes struck the region, reports said.

Teams separately freed a seven-year-old boy and a 62-year-old woman from debris in southeast Türkiye's Hatay province. Both had been trapped for 163 hours before their rescue late Sunday.

In Kahramanmaras, a rescue team successfully made contact with three survivors, believed to be a mother, daughter and baby, in the ruins of a building. The workers said they were trying to break a wall to reach the survivors but a column was delaying them.

In many areas, the rescuers say they lacked sensors and advanced search equipment having to instead dig through the rubble with shovels or by hand.

Berlin urged to quickly ease visa rules
A representative of people of Turkish descent living in Germany has called for earthquake victims from Türkiye to be allowed to enter Germany quickly.

"In this difficult situation, the authorities both in Germany and in Türkiye should do everything they can to ensure that these people can travel," the chairman of the Turkish community in Baden-Württemberg, Gökay Sofuoglu, told the RND news organisation.

"The need is very great right now," Sofuoglu stressed. People of Turkish descent in Germany are also willing to pay for expenses of their relatives from Türkiye. What is important now is "faster processing of visa applications."

The German government has already said it wants to temporarily ease visa restrictions for survivors of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria. The easing of rules would apply to those who have close family ties to Germany if they are facing homelessness or were injured.

The German Foreign Ministry said Monday it would facilitate the entry of earthquake victims, but only if they meet visa criteria.

"Missing passports are of course a problem. Those who have lost everything are unlikely to have a passport, but we cannot simply undermine the passport sovereignty of the Turkish authorities and issue travel documents for foreigners just like that," a German Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Turkish victims who lost their passports in the quakes are urged to contact the German Embassy in Ankara if they wish to stay with German relatives in Germany.

Syrian victims in Syria will be forced to go to German embassies in other neighboring countries, as Berlin and Damascus do not have official ties. Germany witnessed an influx of refugees from Syria in 2015 due to the civil war.      

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that earthquake victims who meet requirements would enter Germany "with regular visas that are swiftly issued and valid for three months."

Türkiye: Opposition points to a 'failed' system
Türkiye's main opposition party has said the country's presidential system had "failed" regarding the earthquake, owing to a lack of "coordination" while "everybody waited for instructions from the president," the Republican People's Party (CHP) spokesman Unal Cevikoz told DW on Monday.

He also blamed faulty construction practices for the scale of the tragedy and added that the construction material used was likely of poor quality.

Cevikoz suggested that for political reasons, construction had been permitted on wet terrain despite the high earthquake risk.

The spokesman said that those responsible for the decision to build on those terrains should "be held accountable."

As hope of recovering survivors fades, many grieving Turks are asking why more wasn't done to prepare for the inevitable. DW spoke with survivors living along the Turkish-Syrian border.

In light of much-needed aid, President Bashar Assad is accelerating his ambitions to end Syria's international isolation, have sanctions lifted and return to the international stage.