Syrians Forgotten in Dilapidated Tents After Earthquake Hits Turkey

A disabled child inside camps in Turkey - April 27, 2023 (Amnesty International)

A disabled child inside camps in Turkey - April 27, 2023 (Amnesty International)

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Not only did the earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 claim lives, but it also affected the lives of Syrians residing in ten Turkish provinces, leaving some in makeshift tents with their children.

This harsh reality does not spare children with disabilities, as living in the camps worsens their conditions, depriving them of the necessary services.

Tents That Provide No Shelter

Surviving Syrians had limited choices, lacking the luxury of selection. The Abdullah Al-Sha’ar family (a father of three) found themselves forced to move to an improvised camp in the city of Antakya, southern Turkey.

Abdullah Al-Sha’ar told Enab Baladi that his son Adi (eight years old) suffers from various disorders inside the camp, experiencing a state of disorientation among people he is not accustomed to seeing. He is unable to adapt and integrate into the surrounding environment due to his special health condition.

Adi used to undergo sessions to improve his behaviors and facilitate his integration into society within the “Fluca” association operating in the city of Hatay. However, the earthquake changed the lifestyle in the region, causing him to lose the opportunity for treatment and placing his family in unsuitable conditions, according to his father, Abdullah.

Although autism can cause disability, early diagnosis and treatment can enhance the possibility of living independently in adulthood. Therefore, it is essential to educate parents about cognitive and linguistic disorders that indicate a potential autism diagnosis, along with the significant treatment options available.

Abdullah stated that with every rainfall, the tents of families drown in water, leading to a “tragic” situation, according to his description. The family’s problem does not solely rely on rainfall but on continuous promises to relocate them to a camp consisting of mobile homes (caravans) without implementation.

Diseases and Lack of Privacy

The unsuitable environment has led to the appearance of insects and animals near the families’ tents, including scorpions and rodents such as rats, according to the families contacted by Enab Baladi.
Families in the makeshift camps resort to using communal bathrooms lacking privacy and unsuitable for many people with disabilities. The lack of cleanliness makes these facilities a fertile environment for disease spread.

Shahinaz Zarbo and her family, residing in an improvised camp on agricultural land in the Altinoz area, affiliated with the city of Antakya, spoke to Enab Baladi about seeing various insects near the tents, increasing their fears, especially with her children experiencing various skin diseases.

The refugee Shahinaz Zarbo attempted to contact the UNHCR several times in the hope of opening an asylum file for her family, to no avail, despite explaining their conditions inside the camps, from the spread of skin diseases among her children to the tearing of tents during rain. Additionally, there is a medical report confirming her husband’s vision impairment in one eye.

Following the earthquake that struck southern Turkey and four Syrian provinces on February 6, the UNHCR in Turkey opened new files for affected Syrian refugees and re-evaluated old files for dozens of them stuck for years. However, the UNHCR has not contacted all those who decided to review their files, limiting communication with families only when scheduling an interview.

Fear and Disturbances Left by the Earthquake

According to testimonies obtained by Enab Baladi, the earthquake created various forms of disturbances among some Syrian refugees in Turkey, causing fear among those present during the earthquake moments, in addition to psychological disorders among children.

Shahinaz Zarbo told Enab Baladi that her daughter (19 years old) suffers from nervous problems, as her hands tighten when feeling fear to this day. This is due to waiting for her two brothers to be rescued from under the rubble.

The earthquake caused fears among Shahinaz’s children, who are now afraid of loud sounds in all their forms, evoking images of building collapses and screams from beneath the debris calling for help.

Abdullah Al-Sha’ar explained to Enab Baladi that since the earthquake, he has not lived in a house after witnessing the catastrophe in Antakya. His work in construction increases his fears, as standing at high places during building requires him to face his health situation.

As for his son Adi, who is diagnosed with autism, his behavior changed after moving to makeshift camps, becoming more emotional and isolated. The family, however, cannot change their situation due to the inability to rent a suitable home at reasonable prices, according to Abdullah.

According to a report by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) on mental health after the earthquake, all earthquake victims, regardless of the level of damage they suffered, will have a psychological reaction and a natural response to the disaster.

This level of symptoms requires psychological support sessions, special care, and attention to avoid exacerbating the problem, according to the report.

According to the Turkish Directorate General of Migration, 3,237,585 Syrian refugees subject to the “temporary protection system” reside in Turkey.

Criticism of the Response

The Turkish province of Kırıkkale was severely hit by the earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 on February 6, followed by another earthquake of the same magnitude in the afternoon of the same day. Violent aftershocks followed.

The earthquake affected ten provinces in Turkey, leading to the death of more than 56,000 people, and injuring about 100,000 others, according to the data of the “Regional Office for Humanitarian Affairs” affiliated with the United Nations.

On April 27, Amnesty International issued a press release stating that people with disabilities living in displacement camps after the earthquake were being ignored during the humanitarian response to the disaster.

The report, titled “Everyone Deserves Dignity: Excluding Persons with Disabilities during the Earthquake Response in Turkey,” documents how they live in inadequate shelters, primarily based on interviews conducted with earthquake victims in several affected provinces in southern Turkey.

Deputy Director of Crisis Response Research at Amnesty International stated that following a single approach to deal with all categories during emergency shelter arrangements excludes any specific requirements for people with disabilities to live with dignity, according to the report.

The organization highlighted in its report the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake and its difficulty, emphasizing the necessity for persons with disabilities to be fully respected regardless of the size of the emergency situation.

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