Antakya, 31 October 2023  The ancient city of Antakya, in Türkiye’s southeastern province of Hatay, was once a hub of history, culture and diversity. Today, it bears the scars of a series of catastrophic earthquakes that struck in February. Despite progress in clearing debris and the emergence of scattered signs of life, the city still wears a haunting emptiness.

Emel and her family were lucky to survive. Yet, their survival came at the heavy cost of losing everything they held dear.

“My husband and I just bought a new house three years ago, after living with his parents for many years. Our house was totally damaged. We couldn’t retrieve anything.”

Emel and her family now reside in a formal settlement, colloquially known as a ‘container city’  a temporary refuge not far from the city centre. Here, over 4,500 residents have found a place to live after the quakes left them homeless.

Emel welcomes visitors into her new home, a two-room furnished container unit, complete with a bedroom, bathroom, and a kitchen. Given the size of her family, with children aged between 6 and 17, they were provided with a more spacious container.

Emel sits in her living room. Photo: IOM 2023/Olga Borzenkova

Emel fondly recalls that the day they moved into their new, albeit temporary, home coincided with the Eid festivities. The settlement had a joyous spirit, despite the challenges the residents had all gone through.

After settling in, she found employment at a public laundromat, where she now works alongside fellow residents Neslihan and Vefa. Aside from it being a source of income, the job has given her a renewed sense of purpose: “Working here has significantly improved my mental health. I have a sense of purpose each day, and I get to spend time with my neighbours who work with me.”

Neslihan and Vefa echo her sentiments about their newfound employment. The trio diligently work at the laundromat on weekdays, clocking in from 8am to 5pm and half-day on Saturdays, leaving Sunday for quality time with their families.

Vefa, Neslihan and Emel (left to right) at work at the laundromat. Photo: IOM 2023/Olga Borzenkova

One example of the containers that serve as homes and public spaces in settlements. Photo: IOM 2023/Miko Alazas

The settlement is slowly sprawling with activity. Among other recent infrastructure improvements, the settlement hosts a school, library, computer laboratory, sports centres, recreational spaces, and a child-friendly centre.

With the child-friendly centre, Emel, Neslihan and Vefa no longer have to worry about where to leave their children while they are busy at work.

In the summer, the centre began offering drawing and handicraft-making activities. With the school year resuming, teachers now offer kindergarten lessons – with the aim of ensuring that children’s education is interrupted as little as possible.

The resumption of such public services would not be possible without prefabricated containers, aside from giving temporary homes to thousands. As of October 2023, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has delivered more than 830 containers to authorities, which are distributed across the four most earthquake-affected provinces – Adiyaman, Hatay, Kahramanmaras and Malatya.

“We work closely with authorities to ensure that the containers reach where they are needed most,” explains Ibrahim Timurtas, IOM’s National Area Operations Officer. “Not only are these critical for people to have shelter; they also help residents regain a sense of normalcy in a new environment.”

Children of different ages spend time in the settlement’s library. Photo: IOM 2023/Olga Borzenkova

With the winter approaching, the three women are pleased with the improvements in their lives and with the facilities and amenities offered in the settlement.

“For three months, we lived in a house with two families. The containers here are much better than where we were living after the earthquakes,” remarks Neslihan.

Although it takes a lot of courage to start afresh, Emel, Neslihan and Vefa exhibit it as best as they can. In their new communities, they are maximizing new opportunities while holding on hope that, one day, they will own their own homes again.

IOM leads the Temporary Settlement Support Sector (TSS) in Türkiye, which supports government efforts to ensure provision of services and assistance in sites, enhance overall living conditions and safety, and establish communal spaces.

The containers delivered by IOM were made possible through the generous support of the Governments of Japan, Canada, Kuwait, and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.

Written by Olga Borzenkova and Miko Alazas, IOM Türkiye Public Information Unit

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities