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FLASH ALERT: 7.8 EARTHQUAKE IN TURKEY AND SYRIA: THE PLIGHT OF THE REFUGEES

Christine Saddy, Nereida Pérez, Beatrice Fratini

Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

February 7, 2023


Buildings destroyed in the earthquake.[1]



The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for southern Turkey and northern Syria, following the earthquake that caused the deaths of thousands of people and the destruction of critical infrastructure. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake took place on February 6, 2023, at 0417 local time, killing at least 11,000 people, injuring over 55,000, and leaving hundreds missing. In Turkey, at least 8,574 people were killed and 50,000 injured, according to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who declared a state of emergency in the impacted areas.[2] In Syria, there are at least 2,662 deaths and 5,000 injuries. The earthquake affected an area inhabited by Syrian refugees enduring the consequences of Syria's civil war, forcing more than 3.5 million Syrians to escape to Turkey.[3]


CTG is on HIGH alert for the unfolding humanitarian situation in southern Turkey and northern Syria. The Earthquake toppled over 6,200 buildings across the region and according to the World Health Organization, the death toll is estimated to reach 20,000.[4] Below-freezing temperatures hampered efforts to extract survivors from the rubble of buildings at risk of suffering from hypothermia. Thousands who were left homeless were advised not to return home searching for refuge in mosques, shopping malls, stadiums, and community centers.[5]


On February 6, 2023, two major earthquakes struck the Kahramanmaras Province in Southern Turkey. Hundreds of people are still missing and the toll could reach 20,000 deaths among over 13 million affected people. The first earthquake was at a 7.8 magnitude approximately 150 miles from the Turkish-Syrian border at 0417 local time. The second earthquake, of 7.5 magnitude, struck at 1324 local time approximately 80 miles north of the Turkish city of Gaziantep. The earthquakes, which occurred during a severe winter storm, were followed by over 300 aftershocks.


The UN has reportedly been providing humanitarian aid to an estimated 4.1 million people in the impacted region, of which the majority are women and children. The region has been affected by a cholera outbreak since August 2022, with 77,561 cases and 100 deaths registered since then.[6] Humanitarian organizations reported that the sole crossing between Turkey and Syria, which the U.N. had approved for international aid transportation, has become inaccessible since the earthquake occurred, hindering relief efforts even further.[7] According to the International Rescue Committee, the Syrian humanitarian efforts have been severely underfunded in the past years, and this tragedy has only exacerbated the situation.[8]


While the earthquake severely impacted both Turkey and Syria, the emergency response is more complex in Syria. Turkey has a more stable government that is deploying all its available resources to emergency response. Syria depends on foreign countries and organizations for humanitarian aid, and neither the Syrian government under President Bashar Assad nor the rebel groups in northern Syria are trusted by foreign governments to distribute the aid effectively. International humanitarian assistance is only provided through UN partners and NGOs, or given to the White Helmets civil defense forces.[9]


Syria will very likely face severe humanitarian consequences from the earthquake due to its war-torn economy and lack of infrastructure investment. The limited functioning airports and the damaged roads blocking the only UN-approved passage between Turkey and Syria present logistics challenges. This almost certainly hampered humanitarian efforts, including access to humanitarian personnel and resources needed for emergency response, which will likely delay recovery, putting civilians, including those trapped under rubble, at risk and overburdening hospitals and shelters. Removing debris and finding victims has very likely been difficult due to limited access to equipment such as bulldozers, winches, and extractors.


Chances of missing people surviving during rescue procedures are very likely to decrease as temperatures are expected to drop below 27° F in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria in the following hours. Rigid temperatures are likely to delay rescue operations, and victims who are waiting for extraction from the rubbles are very likely to suffer hypothermia. Rigid temperatures are also very likely to impact survivors who are sheltering in tent camps and infrastructures that lack appropriate heating systems, especially in Syria.


Following the quake, it is believed that 20 prisoners suspected to be ISIS militants fled from the military prison controlled by pro-Turkish factions in Rajo near the Turkish border.[10] Terrorist groups are very likely to take advantage of the disorder caused by the earthquake to establish their presence in northern Syria. Al-Qaeda or ISIS-affiliated organizations will likely exploit the situation to radicalize vulnerable individuals that have been impacted severely by the civil war and the earthquake. They are likely to solicit donations from good faith donors (individuals or organizations) to fund their operations through religious organizations, social media, and crowdfunding campaigns. The resurgence of terrorist activities in the region will almost certainly increase refugee suffering and constrain humanitarian efforts.


The Counterterrorism Group recommends that international organizations and governments provide humanitarian aid and funding to intensify their relief efforts and to deliver air transportation to transport rescue and medical workers and equipment, bulldozers, cranes, and extraction tools in a timely manner to perform debris removal and find victims. CTG’s Illicit Finance Team advises all donors to verify the legitimacy of any organization before making a donation and check if they are registered with the appropriate authorities such as CAF(Charity Aid Foundation) and search for information about their track record and past activities. CTG recommends all NGOs operating in the area be vigilant and implement security measures and protocols for staff to ensure their safety and establish secure lines of communication in the case of a power outage, like radio or satellite channels, in the aid response process. Humanitarian organizations should assist individuals in finding emergency shelters and humanitarian aid for local residents to seek shelter. CTG works to detect, deter, and defeat terrorism and will continue to monitor this situation for future developments. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will monitor the region for earthquakes, aftershocks, and landslides and will analyze new information to prepare for timely dissemination.

 

[2] Death Toll Rises Above 11,200 In Turkey, Syria Quake, Barrons, February 2023, https://www.barrons.com/news/death-toll-rises-above-11-200-in-turkey-syria-quake-01675854008

[3] Today's top news: Türkiye, Syria, OCHA, February 2023, https://www.unocha.org/story/todays-top-news-t%C3%BCrkiye-syria

[4] Earthquake in Turkey and Syria: More than 3,700 killed, NBC News, February 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/live-blog/turkey-syria-earthquake-live-updates-rcna69266

[5] Earthquake death toll tops 7,200 in Turkey and Syria as race for survivors continues, NPR, February 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/02/07/1155015066/turkey-syria-earthquake-rescue-survivors-death-toll

[7] Rescuers scramble in Turkey, Syria after quake kills 4,000, AP News, February 2023, https://apnews.com/article/earthquake-shakes-turkey-b927808f6a5c54bdb669120faa40b7bc

[8] Major earthquake kills 3,700 in Turkey and Syria, weather hits survivors, Reuters, February 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/major-earthquake-strikes-turkey-syria-about-200-dead-many-trapped-2023-02-06/

[9] Aid to quake-hit Syria slowed by sanctions, war’s divisions, AP News, February 2023, https://apnews.com/article/politics-syria-government-united-states-bashar-assad-e1bd001643fd8386e8ccb1fcd2a922f3

[10] At least 20 escape Syria prison holding IS inmates after quake, France 24, February 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20230206-at-least-20-escape-syria-prison-holding-is-inmates-after-quake

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