EU sends rescue teams to Turkey earthquake region and seeks to support Syrians

Hundreds believed to be trapped under rubble in central Turkey and north-west Syria

Help is sought for a girl injured in the earthquake in Jandaris, Syria. Reuters
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Follow the latest on the earthquake in Turkey

The EU on Monday sent 17 rescue teams to Turkey after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Turkey and north-western Syria overnight, killing at least 1,300 people.

Teams from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania are on their way to support first responders, said European Commissioner for crisis management Janesz Lenarcic in a joint statement with the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Some countries such as France have sent two rescue teams, and five — Italy, Hungary, Spain, Malta and Slovakia — are waiting for a response to their offers of help, said a European Commission representative.

A second earthquake of magnitude 7.6 struck south-eastern Turkey's Kahramanmaras region on Monday, the country's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said.

The EU's Copernicus satellite system has been activated to provide emergency mapping services.

The commission's humanitarian aid and crisis management spokesman Balazs Iravju said that unlike Turkey, Syrian government authorities had not asked the EU to activate its civil protection mechanism.

Aside from governments, only the UN, ICRC and IRC can ask for assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

So far, the EU has not received a request to activate this mechanism on Syria's behalf.

This means that the EU cannot send rescue teams to Syria.

“Should we have signal from the side of the Syrian authorities that they need help via the civil protection mechanism from the EU then we would immediately examine this request,” said Mr Iravju, responding to a question from The National during a briefing.

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Aziz Haq said that "technically, it is for the Syrian Government to make that request, not the UN."

"On our side, the earthquake is expected to disrupt aid operations in north-west Syria, given the impact on roads, the supply chain and logistics facilities," said Mr Aziz Haq in an email.

The National has also reached out to the ICRC and IRC for comment.

The White Helmets, a civil defense group that operates in north-west Syria, said that they were in the process of coordinating with countries that offered to help, but did not name them.

The EU will support those affected by the earthquake in Syria through its humanitarian assistance programmes, said Mr Iravju.

“We have been in touch with our partner organisation on the ground and from our conversations with them, it has transpired that they will channel some of the existing humanitarian assistance to the areas affected by the earthquake in Syria,” he said.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was established in 2001 and includes EU countries and 8 additional states, including Turkey, Serbia and Norway.

Tobias Tunkel, Middle East and North Africa director at Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Germany would support the organisation.

Ismail Al Abdullah from the White Helmets spoke to the BBC from Sarmada in Syria, near the border with Turkey, to appeal for support.

“Many buildings in different cities and villages in north-western Syria collapsed, destroyed by this earthquake,” he said. “Our teams responded to all the sites and the buildings — and still now, many families are under the rubble. We are trying to save them but it's a very hard task for us.

“We need help. We need the international community to do something, to help us, to support us. North-western Syria is now a disaster area. We need help from everyone to save our people.”

The ruins of collapsed buildings and puddles of water were visible in the background during the broadcast. There have been reports of heavy rain and snow across the region in the past days.

“Many buildings in different cities and villages in north-west Syria collapsed, destroyed by this earthquake. Our teams responded to all the sites and buildings, and until now many families are under the rubble,” said an unidentified man in a video published by the White Helmets’ Twitter account.

“We need help, we need the international community to do something, to help us to support us. North-west Syria is now a disaster area, we need help from everyone to save our people,” he said.

London said that 76 UK search and rescue specialists, four search dogs and rescue equipment were leaving for Turkey on Monday. A statement added the UK was in contact with the UN on emergency humanitarian support to those affected in Syria.

Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said on Twitter that his country would send 76 firemen and eight rescue dogs to Turkey.

Jessika Roswall, Minister for European Affairs of Sweden, expressed her condolences to Turkey and Syria as she arrived for a meeting in Brussels. Sweden currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

“My thoughts go to the families and the victims,” said Ms Roswall.

Updated: February 06, 2023, 8:46 PM