Headlamps and sleeping bags among donations for Morocco earthquake survivors

Solidarity for those affected is strong in Belgian suburbs with a large Moroccan community

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake caused devastation to parts of Morocco on Friday evening, with the death toll nearing 3,000. Reuters
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Emotions ran high as donors, many with family ties to those affected by the Moroccan earthquake, gathered near Brussels to donate vital items.

Headlamps, sleeping bags, shampoo and nappies were all piled up to send to survivors of an earthquake in Morocco that has killed about 3,000 people.

The magnitude-6.8 quake on Friday evening affected several regions of the country, including the High Atlas Mountains.

“We're all human, this could happen to any of us,” said Hannache Abdellatif, a shopkeeper, as he donated several boxes containing 400 headlamps.

“We are afraid for them,” said one woman, who declined to give her name but revealed that her elderly mother – who lives in Agadir – had been forced to sleep outside without a tent.

The woman, in her 50s, was organising volunteers to collect her donations – fold-up beds, covers and mattresses – because she does not own a car.

“If everyone helps a little bit, it can do a lot,” said the woman, dabbing her eyes as she teared up.

She said that even four days after the earthquake, her relatives were still in shock.

“They're afraid of aftershocks,” she told The National.

Moroccans make up one of the largest migrant communities in Belgium.

Six mayors of municipalities in and around Brussels decided to set up the donation centre, a large shed near a canal in Anderlecht, a south-eastern municipality in the capital region.

Other municipalities have since joined in with the campaign.

The centre was launched on Tuesday and will remain open every day until the Belgian army decides the conditions are right to send the donations to Morocco, said Ridouane Chahid, the mayor of Evere.

“We aim first of all to collect tents, covers, sleeping bags, anything that helps people living in the mountains to get ready for winter,” he said.

Many Brussels residents were deeply affected by the earthquake, according to several mayors involved in setting up the centre.

“Some of my constituents have lost family members and in some cases have not heard from their parents, sisters or brothers since the earthquake,” said politician and mayor of Koekelberg, Ahmed Laaouej.

“The Moroccan community is very important in Belgium – it's the second biggest after Belgians of Italian origin,” said Mr Laaouej, himself of Moroccan origin.

“Emotions around me are very intense,” said Catherine Moureaux, the mayor of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean.

“People are crying even if they don't have family there. It's a shock to discover that this kind of catastrophe can happen in Morocco.”

Some donations, including clothes and food, could not be accepted.

Retired construction worker Philippe Sosa had brought boots, shoes and bags, which he said he would donate elsewhere, though volunteers accepted his offer of a hygiene kit for children.

“We must share,” he said. “There's no point in throwing things out.”

Belgium's Development Co-operation Ministry has pledged €5 million [$5.4 million] for victims of the earthquake and to fund reconstruction, a sum which comes on top of smaller amounts offered by the country's various regions.

The ministry also offered to send rescue teams – though Rabat has yet to accept.

“It's up to Morocco to set the pace,” Mr Laaouej said.

“There is no point in rushing and creating logistical problems.”

Updated: September 13, 2023, 9:28 AM