LONDON, United Kingdom — On February 6, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Türkiye and Syria. It displaced millions, causing growing numbers of earthquake refugees in Türkiye. Inhabitants continued to feel aftershocks and before two further earthquakes. An additional earthquake of 6.3 magnitudes occurred in Hatay, southern Türkiye on February 20, 2023. The earthquakes have brought hardship to countless people living in both countries and donors around the world have dedicated funds to recovery efforts, including $185 million from the U.S.
As the destruction from the earthquakes continues to affect the lives of those living in Türkiye, Syria and other surrounding areas, refugees in these areas will have to seek shelter elsewhere. The government of Türkiye predicted that around 1.7 million Syrian refugees were living in the regions the earthquakes affected.
Refugees in Türkiye
Türkiye is the largest refugee-hosting country in the world, accommodating around 4 million refugees, often coming “from neighboring Syria and other war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan,” according to VOA News. But as many in Türkiye struggle to access shelter, food and basic services following the destruction the earthquakes caused, sentiments towards the refugee community have grown increasingly hostile.
The epicenter of the February 6 earthquake struck an area with a high concentration of refugees. “The earthquake killed more than 47,000 people in Türkiye and Syria, among them at least 1,500 Syrian refugees,” VOA News reports.
How STAR is Supporting Earthquake Refugees in Türkiye
Student Action for Refugees (STAR), a U.K.-based fundraising and campaigning organization, has been raising awareness of the impacts of earthquakes on refugee communities. STAR has been active in supporting refugees and raising awareness of policy that is hostile to refugee groups since its foundation in 1992.
The Borgen Project spoke to Gabriela Jones who organized the event alongside other members of STAR for the University of Stirling in Scotland. As an organization that seeks to educate others on the difficulties faced by refugee communities, STAR decided to host a vigil in the town of Stirling for the refugees and those lost in the earthquakes. She told The Borgen Project: “We wanted to give those living in Stirling the opportunity to acknowledge and reflect on what had happened. We also wanted to demonstrate our support and provide hope for the Turkish/Syrian community living in our area. It allowed individuals to share the progress of providing support and what people could do to help.”
Gabriela highlighted how these earthquakes have made the plight of refugees in Syria even more difficult as an already disenfranchised group.
Natural Events and Global Poverty
According to Gabriela, “extreme weather and natural events like this highlight the fragility of safety and home.” She went on to say “In countries where there isn’t a stable economy and government corruption is frequent, events like these hit much harder. The funding for rescue efforts and support takes longer to reach those in need and often relies on funding from other governments.”
This month’s earthquakes along with other extreme weather events, highlight the link between extreme weather and extreme poverty. The World Bank has observed that extreme weather is responsible for annual consumption losses of $520 billion and forces 26 million people into poverty every year.
The World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim has said “storms, floods, and droughts have dire human and economic consequences, with poor people often paying the heaviest price.”
Responses to the February Earthquakes
As Türkiye and Syria rebuild their physical infrastructure and economies they have been largely dependent on support from other countries. Immediate aid came from allies across the Middle East such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including emergency housing, food and water and search and rescue teams. The U.N. called for an immediate humanitarian response totaling $1.4 billion, with the U.S. and the UAE making the largest financial donations, according to VOA News.
However, while there has been support on the country level, the impact on and support for, many arguably overlooked earthquake refugees in Türkiye. Gabriela says “Western governments who are housed in societies of stability and predictability have a duty to support individuals who are living in areas without this security.”
STAR Seeking to Improve the Lives of Refugees
STAR’s current campaign to support those the earthquake affected is among many campaigns and projects to improve the lives of refugees internationally. These include campaigns to improve the accessibility of university education for refugees and policy changes, volunteering with refugee groups and raising funds.
Part of STAR’s aim is to “educate about the maltreatment of refugees and asylum seekers within the U.K.,” according to Gabriela. In STAR’s view, the U.K. government should be doing much more to offer a route to safety for refugees.
Gabriela told The Borgen Project that “Stirling STAR is focusing on the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaign, which is aiming to remove the regulations preventing asylum seekers from working whilst waiting for their claim for asylum to be granted, as currently they are only given less than £6.50 ($8.31) per day to live on by the government.”
February’s earthquakes could worsen the humanitarian crisis, potentially making larger numbers of earthquake refugees in Türkiye move elsewhere. As vast swathes of Türkiye and Syria are forced to rebuild STAR, seeks to provide support for refugee communities in these areas who are now facing immeasurable challenges.
– Florence Jones
Photo: Image Courtesy of Gabriela Jones