Southeast Türkiye, 6 March 2023 – One month ago, back-to-back earthquakes hit Southeast Türkiye and Northwest Syria, leaving a trail of destruction and heartbreak for millions of people.
Tens of thousands of lives were lost, and millions have been displaced.
Survivors are living with the grief of losing their loved ones, their homes, and their communities; the bedrock of their lives. Even as they seek shelter, food, and medical care their souls ache from the tragedy.
Here are the stories of four families who are among the ones who survived, but whose lives have been shaken to their foundations.
“It might sound surprising, but I think the shelling in Syria was less scary than the earthquakes”
“It might sound surprising, but I think the shelling in Syria was less scary than the earthquakes. With bombing, you can expect at least somewhat what is going to happen, and you can hide. But you can’t predict an earthquake or anticipate its consequences,” says Faysal.
When the conflict began in neighbouring Syria, Faysal, like millions of others, fled to Türkiye to find safety for his mother, wife, and their five children. Throughout the years, he took on a variety of jobs, from security to cleaning, to provide for his family. For a while, their life in one of the villages near the regional capital Gaziantep seemed stable.
But on 6 February, they were fleeing for their lives again, not from conflict but from the devastating force of nature. For three days and nights, his 30-year-old car became a home for 14 people who crammed together including in the trunk, to stay warm and safe.
Faysal is waiting for his building to be checked by the authorities, but it doesn’t look promising.
For now, they have decided to stay in a tent – despite the cold and despite his mother’s recent heart surgery. Of course, Faysal is worried about her condition, but the relative safety of the tent remains the best available option for them.
“We will start from scratch”
Rasim is a carpenter from Antakya. Since the events of 6 February, he and his family have lived in a tent in the yard of his house. The massive cracks that the earthquake caused to their home are too dangerous and too visible to ignore. With every new aftershock, they wonder if the building can withstand another, even minor rumble.
Frightened, cold and wet, in the dark of early morning on that fateful day, Rasim and his family stood and looked at the house that could collapse at any moment.
“Whoever has experienced this earthquake will not forget this. We waited in the rain until daybreak. We didn’t even have a blanket.”
Although Rasim is retired, he had continued working at the carpentry workshop not far from his home – which, too, is flattened now. The piles of debris remind him of his profession and, hopefully, what he will return to in brighter times.
Rasim might have lost everything, but he hasn’t lost hope. That becomes clear to whoever is talking to him.
“If we can stay in our house, then we will live here. If it is to be demolished, then we will need to build another one. We will start from scratch,” says Rasim with a gentle smile.
“I ran five hours in the rain, slipping in the slush”
“My heart was jumping out of my chest. I ran five hours in the rain, slipping in the slush, to find my family safe outside and sighed in relief,” recalls Mahmoud.
When the first earthquake rocked Gaziantep and neighboring provinces at 4:17 on 6 February, Mahmoud was at work, guarding one of the buildings in the central part of Gaziantep. His family members, Syrian refugees from the conflict across the border, were 35 kilometers away in a village near Gaziantep. Not being able to reach his family by phone, he rushed home in panic. It was impossible to stop a car or ask someone for a lift. Almost every vehicle had become a temporary sanctuary for people escaping from collapsing buildings. It took him five hours to reach his village and make sure his family was safe.
They also spent one night in a car, huddled together with another family, before they moved to a tent. As his home has visible cracks in the structure, he is waiting for the authorities to assess whether the building is safe to return. Until then, he will have to stay in a tent.
“Everything is gone. I am unemployed now”
Süleyman’s house stands out among those buildings that have been flattened by the earthquakes. It doesn’t have cracks or severe damage – at least at first sight. It's puzzling why of all buildings this one withstood the natural forces that turned Antakya into a ghost town. Still, Mehmet is careful and responsible. He and his family continue to stay in a temporary tent outside. They know looks can be deceiving. The real danger might be hidden inside – this building has not collapsed…yet.
While there is hope for his house, there is less optimism for an easy future.
“I had a small grocery shop right there, but it collapsed. Now it’s gone.”
It will take some time for Süleyman and his family to adjust and rebuild their lives – to renovate the house, to find a new job, a new school for his children, a safe place for their family.
The road to recovery will be long and will take joint efforts, solidarity and empathy.
Faysal’s, Rasim’s, Mahmoud’s, and Süleyman’s families represent the fate of many survivors of the earthquakes. They all struggle to meet their basic needs. IOM works with national partners on the ground to deliver much-needed relief.
Since early February, IOM has delivered emergency items to national partners, utilizing its global supply chain stocks from the IOM Burc warehouse in Gaziantep, and relying on procurement and logistics teams working around the clock. As a result, nearly 960,000 people have been reached with non-food items, including housing units, stoves, bedding, winter clothes and hygiene items, in eight affected provinces in Southeast Türkiye; as of 6 March 2023, over 140 trucks carrying humanitarian aid have crossed into Northwest Syria since the earthquakes.
IOM will continue to utilize its expansive supply chain and logistics capacity to support relief efforts in the country and is ready to provide its expertise to support the Government’s efforts in the Temporary Settlement Support Sector and further grow its cooperation with Türkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and other national partners involved in the earthquake response to help more people in need.
Written by Olga Borzenkova, Communications Officer, IOM Türkiye