6 Reasons Why Refugees Need Your Support After The Turkey-Syria Earthquakes

Devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have made a dire situation worse—but the underlying challenges can get lost in the headlines. See the reasons why and the ways nonprofits are responding.


In the wake of the Turkey and Syria earthquakes, rescue workers searched through the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings in freezing winter temperatures. But in many areas of northwestern Syria, survivors were left waiting for rescue teams with the necessary machinery and emergency relief.

The impacts of the Turkey and Syria earthquakes are hitting refugees, children, and other overlooked groups the hardest. Here’s why.

1. This is a crisis within a crisis.

For 12 years, Syria has been suffering from war. The COVID-19 pandemic and a new cholera epidemic in the country’s northwest are also adding to the strain on communities. About 6.8 million people were displaced within Syria before the massive quakes struck.

“People have been living either in camps, tents, or buildings damaged by the war and years of neglect,” Olimpia Theodoli of the nonprofit Crete For Life wrote in a recent call to action. “Traveling between the two parts of the country is both forbidden and dangerous. Years of civil war have divided the country.”

Assistance for the nearly 4.1 million people dependent on humanitarian aid in northwestern Syria was difficult to deliver through government-imposed restrictions even before the earthquakes. United Nations aid was limited to a single crossing in 2020 by Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution, and the roads of the crossing have been severely damaged by the recent earthquakes.

The quakes on Feb. 6 and thousands of aftershocks that have rocked the region since, including the 5.6 magnitude tremor that hit on Monday, compound the challenges of delivering aid to survivors in both Turkey and Syria.

Support emergency relief efforts for survivors through GlobalGiving’s Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund.


2. Aid has been slow to trickle into Syria.

Without assistance in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, only 5% of the affected areas have been searched, according to a joint statement published by 35 international and Syrian aid groups calling for greater support. While global rescue teams and aid flowed into Turkey, Syrians didn’t have access to fuel and heavy machinery. They were left to dig for survivors with shovels and their bare hands.

International aid to Syria was restricted to the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey. On Feb. 13, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to open more border crossings for the first time in the 12-year civil war to allow more aid from Turkey to opposition-held areas affected by the quakes. Nine days after the earthquakes, a UN convoy carrying humanitarian assistance was able to enter opposition-held northwest Syria through the Bab al-Salam crossing. The UN’s aid chief admitted that their initial response failed the people of Syria.

In response to the earthquakes, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) authorized activity supporting emergency earthquake relief efforts in Syria that would otherwise be prohibited by US sanctions. All support provided through GlobalGiving’s Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund is distributed to vetted nonprofit organizations that are checked for sanctions compliance, as OFAC mandates.

3. Medical systems in the earthquake zone were already stressed.

In northwestern Syria, the earthquakes added to the impacts of the civil war and put even more pressure on the medical support system. Before the earthquakes, vital infrastructure, including hospitals and entire neighborhoods, were in ruins as a result of the fighting across the country. Roughly half of hospitals, primary health care facilities, and specialized centers were fully functional before Feb. 6. Now, the remaining hospitals are overwhelmed.

Community-led efforts to address this dangerous lack of health services, like those of the nonprofit SEMA Insani ve Tibbi Yardim Dernegi, have been ongoing in the impacted areas for years and could respond to the earthquakes immediately. SEMA, led by expatriate Syrian doctors and medical staff, has been working in northern Syria to provide critical relief items and services through their mobile clinics.

“So far, we have been able to provide health care to more than 650 beneficiaries affected by the devastating earthquake,” SEMA shared earlier this week.

Support emergency relief efforts for survivors through GlobalGiving’s Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund.

4. Millions of refugees and displaced people were in the hardest-hit areas.

Humanitarian needs in Turkey and Syria were significant before the earthquakes. Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, including about 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees. Many refugee communities live in camps along the Turkey-Syria border, close to the epicenter of the earthquakes.

The escalating stress on survivors to find shelter and support in the wake of the region’s worst natural disaster in a century has heightened anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey. Many Syrian refugees are becoming a scapegoat for the tragedy.

“The communities affected by these earthquakes are incredibly vulnerable,” the nonprofit IsraAID said. “Over 90% of the population lives in poverty, and there are long-term needs for protection, education, livelihoods, and public health.”

IsraAID is focusing on reaching groups that are overlooked and in need in Gaziantep province, which hosts the second-highest number of Syrian refugees in Turkey after Istanbul.

5. Millions of children have been impacted.

At least 4.6 million children lived in the 10 provinces of Turkey that were hit by the quakes, and more than 2.5 million children were affected in Syria, according to UNICEF. Although the total number of children in need of assistance is unclear, the estimate is in the millions.

One of these children, 2-year-old Abdelbaset, was pulled from the rubble of a building he had been trapped under for 70 hours. Tragically, his entire family died in the disaster. GlobalGiving’s partner NuDay rescued Abdelbaset. They gave him medical treatment and worked to locate any surviving extended family.

“Even after this tragedy, we are doing what we can to build hope,” Nadia Alawa, Founder and CEO of NuDay, said.

6. There’s a shortage of safe shelter.

For years, Syrians in the country’s northwest have endured crossfire between the Syrian government and opposition forces, destroying most emergency infrastructure.

The impacted area also sits on one of the world’s most active fault lines. That’s why Turkey and Syria often see devastating earthquakes compared to the rest of the world. Buildings were already compromised by Syrian bombardments, or in the case of many structures in Turkey, were unreinforced constructions. They couldn’t withstand the prolonged shaking of the major quakes or aftershocks.

Earthquake survivors and first responders have spent many days and nights in the snowy, debris-filled streets. They are afraid of being under roofs that are still standing in the event of another aftershock. Houses that were not destroyed in the quakes have still been heavily damaged and remain unsafe. But the harsh winter and a lack of safe shelter makes it difficult for people to stay out of dangerous buildings.

The team at the nonprofit International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation (IBC) is working around the clock to provide emergency shelters and other life-saving relief supplies to communities in northwest Syria in partnership with Doctors Without Borders.

“Immense and continued cooperation is needed to prevent further loss of life and suffering,” IBC said. “Thank you to all who are mobilizing and to the heroic search and rescue teams on the ground.”

Support long-term, community-led recovery by donating to GlobalGiving’s Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund.


Note: This article was originally published at 5:49 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2023 and last updated at 11:45 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2023.

Featured Photo: Turkey & Syria Earthquake Emergency Response by Peace Winds Korea

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