Earthquake survivors forced out of accommodation in Turkey, despite government promises

Families have been offered lodging in one of the 'container cities' established in the earthquake zone or rental support of around $100

A man passes the rubble of a building in Adiyaman, Turkey, that collapsed in the February 6 earthquake.  EPA
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Six months after earthquakes hit southern Turkey, survivors say they are being forced out of accommodation they were told they could stay in until permanent housing was built.

Hundreds of thousands of people left the 11 disaster-struck provinces for other parts of Turkey after the February 6 quakes killed more than 50,000 people in the country.

Many settled in student dormitories run by the Credit and Hostels Institution, or KYK, an agency of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Survivors living in dorms across Turkey say they were told to leave by the end of July in what they say is a betrayal of the promises made.

After we were promised shelter, they kicked us out
Elif Bingul, earthquake survivor

“There are people who came here again and again – ministers came, [parliamentary] deputies came. They said we would stay here for at least a year,” said Elif Bingul, an earthquake survivor in her thirties from Hatay who moved to a dormitory in Eskisehir, north-west Turkey.

“Then the governor came, [emergency co-ordination agency] AFAD came and we were told to leave. We were pressured so that we could not object and we were compelled to sign for either a container or rental assistance.

“After we were promised shelter, they kick us out.”

Families have been offered lodging in one of the many “container cities” established in the earthquake zone or rental support of 3,000 Turkish lira – equivalent to around $110 – to find housing in the cities they fled to.

But survivors said the financial assistance does not cover the inflated costs of rent during housing shortage exacerbated by people displaced by the earthquakes.

“Erdogan said people could stay in dorms until new housing was built,” said one survivor staying in a KYK dormitory in Kocaeli, south of Istanbul. “Where will we find a home for 3,000 lira?”

In the weeks following the disaster, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to build 650,000 homes in the earthquake zone, with 319,000 of them to be completed within a year. Last month, he said delivery of new homes would start in September.

In Konya, central Anatolia, Yusuf Sahin, his wife and three children were moved out of a dormitory so renovations can be carried out before students arrive next month.

“We rented a house in Konya thanks to acquaintances,” he said. “Normally, they rent between 8,000 to 10,000 lira but they rented it to us for 5,000 lira as charity.”

Mr Sahin, from Hatay, added that he had seen no sign of renovations at the dormitory, despite what he had been told by the authorities.

“The dorm is empty right now,” he said. “They don’t do anything other than deceive people and put them in a difficult situation.”

Several opposition MPs have called on the government to maintain support for those who lost their homes and loved ones in the quakes.

“It is unscrupulous to say to earthquake victims that they must leave their homes,” said Utku Cakirozer, an Eskisehir deputy from the Republican People’s Party, or CHP. “The state has to help earthquake victims.”

Some 2,000 people were staying in dormitories in Eskisehir, according to Mr Cakirozer. Many of them boarded buses to their home provinces in the quake zone on Sunday night to live in container shelters.

“When I talked to them, none of them actually wanted to go,” Mr Cakirozer said. “They were forced to sign papers that said they would either get containers or 3,000 lira rental aid.

“But there is no chance of finding a house for 3,000 liras either in Eskisehir or in the earthquake regions they came from. They all want to stay here.”

“There were promises made to them by the ministers and officials who came here during the election period. But these words are now forgotten.”
Utku Cakirozer, Republican People’s Party

Referring to elections won by Mr Erdogan and his party in May, Mr Cakirozer said: “There were promises made to them by the ministers and officials who came here during the election period. But these words are now forgotten.”

Abdurrahman Tutdere, a CHP deputy for quake-hit Adiyaman province, raised the issue in parliament last week.

“What will be the fate of the earthquake victims who were expelled from their KYK dormitories?” he asked. “Will the earthquake victims be taken out of the dormitories and thrown into the streets?”

Mr Tutdere said there was “great pressure” on survivors to leave the dorms willingly or “their food, water and similar humanitarian needs will not be met.”

Another CHP deputy, Ilhami Ozcan Aygun, pointed to Turkey’s economic crisis and its impact on survivors removed from dormitories.

“As the economic crisis deepens and inflation is experienced in all areas, from housing to food, earthquake victims suffer much more,” he said.

The Youth and Sports Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the removal of people from KYK housing.

Meanwhile, people living in tents provided by the disaster agency AFAD have been told they must move out to other temporary accommodation in the earthquake region.

Survivors in the Hatay city of Iskenderun said they had been told to move from tents near their collapsed homes to another “tent city” or a ship in the city’s harbour repurposed for emergency housing.

“Doesn’t the district governor, who wants to send us either to the ship or to other tents, know that our jobs and our children’s schools are here?” said Bulent Girit, a 41-year-old father-of-two.

“This is our neighbourhood. Our jobs, our school, everything is here. What they offer as a solution is another problem.”

Among those who fled the earthquake zone to other Turkish cities were some 220,000 Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency.

They were granted special permission to leave the provinces where they were registered to live but now many say the authorities are declining to extend that authorisation, forcing them to return.

“We came from Hatay to Istanbul on the authority of the migration directorate after the earthquakes,” said Hussein, a 32-year-old Syrian migrant who travelled with his wife and son.

“I wouldn’t have come if I knew they wouldn’t allow the extension.” He asked for his family name not to be used for fear of repercussions from the Turkish authorities.

Hussein said his permit to live in Istanbul would expire later this month but he could not face returning to the earthquake zone as his son is still traumatised.

“If this problem is not resolved, we will have to go either to Syria or Europe,” he added. “Syria is difficult, so it must Europe. The migration does not end.”

Updated: August 08, 2023, 11:20 AM