One year after the Turkish-Syrian earthquake: life between devastation and discrimination

11.11.11 publishes new data on difficult situation of Syrians in Turkey after earthquake

One year after severe earthquakes devastated large parts of Turkey and Syria, the population is still facing problems, mostly regarding housing and psychological assistance. For Syrians in Turkey, the situation is even more dire, according to research by 11.11.11 and Upinion.

On Feb. 6, 2023, two earthquakes of 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude struck southern Turkey and neighboring regions in northwestern Syria. In Turkey alone, more than 50,000 people lost their lives. More than 100,000 buildings and homes there were razed to the ground, displacing many families. Sleeping at home was not an option for many, it was far too dangerous, especially with the thousands of aftershocks that continued to ravage the area. ​

Tammam Aljamous was one of those people. He went to Gaziantep, Turkey, in 2015 to help Syrian refugees with his organization Olive Branch. One year ago, the earthquake suddenly turned his life upside down: "I saw a building shaking while I knew my daughter was inside. I went through 5 years of war in Syria, but the fear that I could lose my whole family made this the worst day of my life. We spent the first two days in our car." His colleague Derya recognizes the fear and chaos of those first hours and days. She lost her niece in Kahramanmaraş, a town near the epicenter. "Together with my family, we searched for her for days, in vain. In Antakya, I lost 16 friends - so many friends. The loss was huge."

From emergency kitchens to skyrocketing rents

Immediately after the earthquake, people shot into action - including 11.11.11 partner Olive Branch. For the first few weeks, Olive Branch set up emergency kitchens and distributed meals; afterwards, they added non-food items such as blankets, medicine or hygiene products. "We fell back on our experience from the war in Syria. As a result, we knew what was needed. We had all already had to deal with intense situations in our past," outlines Tammam.

As the months passed, the needs shifted from emergency kitchens to housing, employment, psychosocial assistance and childcare. These are still sky-high, particularly for Syrian refugees in Turkey. That's according to a new report by 11.11.11 and Upinion. Based on two large surveys of hundreds of Syrian refugees in Turkey, both organizations paint a picture of poor access to relief goods, housing, psychosocial support and even violence and discrimination by Turkish authorities. ​

For example, more than one in ten (11%) Syrian refugees reported that they did not find shelter, 5% were even evicted from their shelter. A large proportion of them constantly move from one shelter to another-often tents or containers that are not suitable for the cold winter months. Indeed, in the housing market, Syrians encounter a lot of resistance. ​

"We even received testimonies from people who said their rent went up 120 to even 500%. The toxic election climate encouraged discrimination against Syrians." - Willem Staes, 11.11.11 expert

"We even received testimonies from people who said their rent went up 120 to even 500%. Landlords try to evict them or reject them in advance when they apply," outlined 11.11.11 expert Willem Staes. "Certainly the toxic climate surrounding the Turkish elections worked to discriminate against Syrians."

A normal life: psychosocial support and humanity

The first anniversary of the earthquake confronts many Syrians and Turks with the loss and unprocessed trauma they carry with them. Tammam also recognized this when he recently interviewed a young woman applying for a job. "She came across as very confused. Then we sounded out what was going on: The interview took place on the fifth floor and it was the first time she had gone into such a tall building again. She was 25 and so scared," he says. "Things that seem so everyday to others can be a traumatic trigger for people here." Figures from 11.11.11 and Upinion also confirm this. One in four refugees the organizations spoke to listed psychosocial help as the greatest need (31%) - only housing demand scored higher (54%) and food support (35%) scored higher. ​

European leaders are currently discussing a new financial support package for the reception and protection of Syrian refugees in Turkey. As temporary president of the EU, Belgium can play a leading role in reaching an ambitious package. "Our country and the EU must avoid this becoming yet another forgotten crisis and help people build a normal life, also in the earthquake area, says 11.11.11 expert Willem Staes.

"I fled from a war and lost so many people. I don't want to wait and see, but to help people build an existence. I know there are problems, but I build on the positive." - Tammam Aljamous, 11.11.11-partner Olive Branch

Or as Tamman also concludes, "I fled from a war and lost so many people. I don't want to wait and see, I want to keep helping. I want to help people make a living. Turkey protected me and my daughters, I will never forget that. I know there are problems, but I want to continue and build on the positive." ​


To the editor: ​

Key figures from the 11.11.11 and Upinion survey, based on two online surveys in October 2023 (494 respondents) and January 2024 (273 respondents) among (partly the same) Syrian refugees in Turkey:

  • 61% of Syrians surveyed in Turkey reported insufficient access to emergency assistance at the end of October 2023, more than 8 months after the earthquakes. ​
  • The main needs in January 2024 were housing (55%), followed by food support (34%) and psychosocial support (30%). During the October 2023 survey, housing and shelter (48%), psychosocial support (25%) and food support (20%) were cited as the main needs.
  • Asked about the main challenges in the period between October 2023 and January 2024, 43% of respondents said they faced movement restrictions that prevented them from moving within Turkey. ​ 40% of respondents mentioned that increased demand for new housing made it difficult for them to stay in their current homes. ​
  • Other challenges in the January 2024 follow-up survey included obtaining or renewing legal documents (25%), unequal distribution of aid (21%), hate speech and violence from police officers (18%) and lack of psychosocial support (18%).
  • 54% of Syrians surveyed in October 2023 identified discrimination in the distribution of humanitarian aid following the earthquake. The organizations that Upinion is in conversation with shared this view and suggested that conducting more transparent "needs assessments" can help remove misunderstanding and unease among Turkish residents.
  • 63% (n=93) of Syrians surveyed who were forced to leave their homes after the earthquakes have still not been able to return, almost a year later. This is telling of the state of reconstruction and housing problems facing both Syrian refugees, and Turkish residents.
  • 55% of civil society organizations surveyed (n=40) report a severe lack of financial resources to meet all the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees, but the displacement of their own staff due to the earthquake was also identified by many as an obstacle (40%).

Interviews are available with Tammam Aljamous (Olive Branch) & Willem Staes (11.11.11)

11.11.11 is the Flemish coalition for International Solidarity. We bring together 55 organizations, 20,000 volunteers and about 300 small civic initiatives and are active in four continents with human rights and environmental activists (middle east, central africa, south east asia and latin america). In Belgium, we are the most well-known organization working on international solidarity together with our French-speaking sister organisation . With high-profile campaigns and communicative actions, but also with dossier knowledge and lobbying, we try to weigh in on the public and political debate.

Download the survey here

PDF - 2.3 Mb
Kenny  Van Minsel

Kenny Van Minsel

Persverantwoordelijke - press officer, 11.11.11

 

 

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About 11.11.11

11.11.11 is the Flemish coalition for International Solidarity.

We bring together 55 organizations, 20,000 volunteers and about 300 small civic initiatives and are active in four continents with human rights and environmental activists (middle east, central africa, south east asia and latin america). In Belgium, we are the most well-known organization working on international solidarity together with our French-speaking sister organisation . With high-profile campaigns and communicative actions, but also with dossier knowledge and lobbying, we try to weigh in on the public and political debate.

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