Conflict Alerts # 592, 16 February 2023
In the news
On 9 February, Greece sent 36 rescue workers to the earthquake-hit Turkey despite being at odds for decades. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mosokakis, addressing a European Union conference in Brussels, assured that they would play a leading role in aiding Turkey.
On 12 February, the Turkish government issued 113 arrest warrants after declaring that it would investigate the poor quality of infrastructure and officials responsible for it.
On 14 February, the Syrian government opened two more border crossings after the earthquake damaged the Bab-al Hawa opening, which was used by the UN. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Syria to open border crossings especially to aid northwestern Syria, predominantly controlled by President Bashar al-Assad's dissenters.
On 15 February, the United Kingdom provided a special General Trade License to organizations involved in humanitarian aid in Turkey and Syria. Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met Foreign Minister of Armenia and appreciated the latter’s timely help. The Foreign Ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Jordan Foreign Minister visited Damascus. Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim met with the Turkish President, Tayyip Recep Erdogan. Ukraine sent 88 rescue workers to Turkey and Cuba sent medics to the affected areas of Turkey and Syria. Saudi Arabia sent its first aid plane to Syria.
On February 16, Turkey estimated the death toll had increased to 36,187 and Syria and the UN estimated the death toll in Syria to be 5800. Meanwhile, Qatar sent 10,000 mobile housing units to the quake-hit areas in both countries.
Issues at large
First, inadequate aid to northwestern Syrian territory. Syria has already been ravaged by a decade-long civil war, infrastructure damage, and a widespread cholera outbreak. Despite the opening of borders, there is less medical help coming into the quake-hit zones in Syria. Search and rescue teams are inadequate to work along with the Syrian Civil Defense volunteers, the White Helmets.
Second, the internal displacement and humanitarian crisis. In Turkey, people are residing in tents, playgrounds, and roads even when temperatures are as low as minus nine degree celsius. The UNHCR says 5.3 million people are in desperate need of shelter assistance. The earthquake has damaged several water systems in both countries, thereby making acquiring water for drinking and sanitation difficult.
Third, the anti-Syrian sentiment in Turkey. According to the UNHCR, Turkey is home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Following the earthquake, anti-Syrian sentiments are increasing across quake-hit towns and cities, especially in Antakya; Syrians are accused of looting. On social media, phrases such as “We don’t want Syrians”, and “No longer welcome” are viral.
Fourth, the irresponsibility of authorities. In Turkey, the response by the Disaster and Energy management presidency (AFAD) to the earthquake was late. The government took down Twitter for 12 hours and arrested building contractors desperately, to cover up their irresponsibility.
In Syria, aid delivery is a challenge as on the one hand, the government has weaponized aid and on the other, dissenters refuse the assistance. In some places acquiring water for sanitary purposes is negligent. It is a crisis inside a crisis in Syria. With the prevailing consequences of the civil war, the earthquake has led to increased homelessness and a massive humanitarian crisis.
In Turkey, the 2018 amnesty which allowed the construction and licensing of buildings not built abiding by the safety measures shows Turkey’s ambitions for growth by any means. If this trend continues, the quality of reconstruction and rehabilitation will be worse.