The poorest population, refugees and internally displaced people live in the areas most affected by the tremors
Scary scenes of mountains of rubble and ruined buildings impacted the world this early morning on Sunday to Monday (6). An earthquake of magnitude 7.8 hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing, according to reports until Wednesday (8), more than 11,000 people.
In Turkey, more than 8,500 died and in Syria, in regions already greatly affected by the destruction of the war, such as Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus, there were more than 2,600 fatalities.
According to the rescuers of the “White Helmets”, at least 700 deaths were reported in areas outside the control of the Assad regime. Authorities estimate that a total of around 35,000 were injured as a result of the seismic shock.
In addition to the fact that the earthquake happened during the early morning, with most people still sleeping in their homes, the affected regions of the two countries have characteristics that have caused a tragedy of this magnitude.
In Turkey, the affected location of Gaziantep is populous (2 million people) and, like the entire Turkish territory, has buildings that are inappropriate to support strong earthquakes – in 1999, the earthquake in Izmit killed more than 17,000 people. In 2004, a law was created requiring new buildings to follow seismic safety standards. In 2020, despite the legislation, another earthquake hit the Aegean coast and killed 114 people.
To the north of Syria, various ethnic groups live in very precarious conditions. Many live in refugee camps in a region that is outside the control of the Syrian regime and therefore does not receive any assistance from Bashar al-Assad.
Normally, this population already faces precarious conditions without any interference from nature. The region is still constantly subject to military attacks, internal conflicts and other security risks. The population faces economic difficulties, including high unemployment, poverty, hunger, lack of access to education and health services and poor basic infrastructure, such as energy and sewage systems.
Therefore, an earthquake of such magnitude as that occurred on the early morning of February 6, only makes the situation even more complicated.
Victorios Shams, a Syrian journalist who has lived in Brazil since 2015, described such a scenario for this vulnerable population. “Being in a territory apart from the control of the Assad regime, these people do not receive any humanitarian aid or even prompt rescue to the injured.”
In a scene disclosed by the local press, a man laments the lack of humanitarian support. In another, a baby was born by cesarean section among the ruins. The newborn was rescued but his entire family, including his mother, died under the rubble. Rawa Alsagheer, a Palestinian born in Syria, also arrived in Brazil in 2015. With relatives still living in Syria, she confirmed that “in the region affected by the earthquakes, the survivors themselves try to rescue people or follow on their own in search of the missing”.
Winter and Displacement
The earthquake-stricken region has average temperatures for this time of year that usually range from 2 to 8 degrees Celsius in northern Syria and from 5 to 12 degrees Celsius in southern Turkey.
In this dramatic situation, winter can be particularly difficult for refugees and internally displaced people due to a number of factors. Many of them live in tents or makeshift structures that do not offer adequate protection against the cold and adverse weather conditions.
Access to potable water may be limited during this time of year due to adverse weather conditions, transportation and food distribution may also be affected, and the cold and unsanitary conditions can increase the risk of disease, especially among children and the elderly.
Vulnerability is not a tragedy
In general, the southern region of Turkey is less developed and less industrialized than the coastal regions of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and therefore expresses concrete social and economic inequalities between the different local communities.
In the case of northern Syria, the result of the migration crisis is another proof that the more fragile social situation is not a tragedy nor a result of adverse events of nature.
With the war of Assad, many people were forced to flee their homes and communities due to violence and conflict, resulting in a major humanitarian crisis.
Since the beginning of the Syrian regime’s massacre against the popular uprising in the country in 2011, many people have sought refuge in neighboring countries, mainly in Turkey.
According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Turkey is currently the country that hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, with over 3.5 million registered (64% of Syrian refugees went to Turkey).
Palestinians also make up this population. Before the war in Syria, there were about 560,000 Palestinian refugees in the country. The current number of Palestinian refugees in Syria is unknown, but estimates suggest there are fewer than 100,000 officially registered in the country. They live in regions, as explained by Shams, outside the control of the Syrian regime.
The main refugee camps located in the earthquake-stricken Syrian region are Al Hol, located in the province of Al-Hasakah, which houses about 62,000 people, mainly women and children displaced from other areas of Syria, Ain Issa, located in the province of Raqqa, which houses about 13,000 people, including many displaced from the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor regions, the Al Rukban Camp, located in the border region between Syria and Jordan, which houses about 40,000 people, including many displaced from the Deir ez-Zor region, and the most well-known, the Idlib Camp, with about 70,000 refugees, who face difficulties such as increasing prices of basic products and food shortages.
In southern Turkey, which was strongly affected by the earthquake, there are also several refugee camps that provide shelter for displaced people from Syria. Among the main ones, there is Nizip, located in the province of Gaziantep (the epicenter of the earthquake), and one of the largest refugee camps in Turkey, housing about 26,000 people.
There is also the Kilis Camp, located in the province of Kilis, which houses about 13,000 people, including many displaced from the Aleppo region, the Osmaniye Camp, located in the province of Osmaniye, which houses about 10,000 people, including many displaced from the Idlib region, and the Sanliurfa Camp, which houses about 18,000 people.
Although many of the camps have more simple constructions than those that exist in cities, with the destruction of large urban centers and the difficulty of transportation, rescue, and supplies for these vulnerable populations, the situation must escalate.
Therefore, many may still die under rubble, with hunger or cold, victims of the neglect of governments and regimes that force the mass flight of populations that only seek the right to life and dignity.
It is necessary that the affected populations be heped, in order to prevent the violence of poverty or refuge from being further deepened by the claws of capitalism that limits and creates borders, that weighs more in mountains of rubble and deaths caused by wars and economic and social inequalities.