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Earthquake: Syria and Turkey receive aid from the EU

The EU is not only sending aid to Turkey, but also to Syria in the near future. The regime in Damascus asked for this after the severe earthquake, despite the political opposition to the EU. From Brussels Bernd Riegert.

Turkey |  Elbistan after the earthquake
The EU will send aid to Turkey and Syria

The employees of the EU Center for Civil Protection sit in an office building of the EU Commission in front of large monitors and maps. Everything comes together in this small hall – what help is needed and what offers can the 27 EU member states and eight other European countries make? Aid for the earthquake victims in Turkey has been coordinated here for days. Previously, supporting Ukraine under attack from Russia was the biggest task.

EU Commissioner Janez Lenarcic at the EU Center for Civil Protection in Brussels
EU Commissioner Janez Lenarcic at the EU Center for Civil Protection in Brussels (archive)

36 rescue teams on the way

Now the requirements of the authorities and aid organizations in Turkey are being collected and offers from the states involved in civil defense are being taken up. The employees in Brussels start specific inquiries to various aid organizations, fire brigades, police, or army forces in the member states in order to enable operations.

In the meantime, 20 EU member states and three other European participating states have made 36 search and rescue teams available. That’s around 1,500 people and 100 search and detection dogs. About half of these forces have arrived in the earthquake area in Turkey, according to the European Civil Protection Agency.

A girl and several women in front of destroyed houses in Kahramanmaras, Turkey
Homeless people in Kahramanmaras, Turkey: EU sends search teams, and soon tents

The most important thing is the targeted coordination with the Turkish operations management and helpers from other regions of the world, said the EU Commissioner for Disaster Relief, Janez Lenarcic, on Wednesday in Brussels. The number of offers of help is increasing hourly because the extent of the disaster in Turkey and Syria is also increasing. The authorities in Turkey are now assuming at least 8,500 deaths, and more than 2,600 deaths have been reported from Syria. Tens of thousands of people were injured. The EU Commission has stationed its own coordination team in Turkey, which works together with the authorities, airports, logistics providers, and aid organizations on site.

Syria is also asking the EU for help

After some hesitation, the regime of Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad has officially asked the EU Civil Defense Center for help, EU Commissioner Lenarcic announced. “The list of aid that Syria needs is very long.” They range from search and rescue forces to medical equipment and food deliveries. “We encourage the EU member states to deliver quickly here, too,” assured the EU Commissioner.

A young man holds the body of a child wrapped in a blanket
Rescue work in Syrian Aleppo: EU civil protection is politically neutral

The government of Syria, which has been subject to EU sanctions for years because of the civil war in the country, will be helped in an emergency, said EU diplomats. The civil protection of the EU is impartial and does not ask about politics in the disaster.

However, it is uncertain how the rebel areas in north-west Syria, which were particularly hard hit by the earthquake, can be supplied with relief supplies. The United Nations pointed out that the roads leading to the only open border crossing for humanitarian aid, Bab-al-Hawa, between Turkey and Syria were badly damaged by the earthquake. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) speaks of four million Syrian refugees who were already dependent on food supplies on both sides of the border before the earthquake.

EU sanctions do not hinder aid

The EU Commissioner for Disaster Relief assured that only the people in Syria, not the regime, should benefit from EU aid deliveries. “We will monitor that very closely.” In response to a question from DW, Lenarcic firmly rejected the accusation from Syria that international sanctions were preventing aid for the earthquake victims. “There is nothing that could in any way impede the delivery of relief supplies,” said Lenarcic.

EU Commissioner Janez Lenarcic at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in conversation with aid organizations
EU Civil Protection Commissioner Janez Lenarcic at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria in April 2021

The sanctions targeted the assets and travel of members of the regime, companies that made money from the war, and the import of equipment that could be used to repress the people. This involves police equipment and systems for monitoring telecommunications. In addition, the European Union has banned the import of oil from Syria and the purchase of Syrian government bonds.

Next level: tents and heating

Meanwhile, Turkey is preparing for the second phase of disaster relief after the immediate search and rescue operations. The Turkish authorities asked the EU on Wednesday morning for the supply of blankets, tents, stoves, heaters, and medical supplies to help care for the tens of thousands of homeless and injured. “We’ll send that off as soon as possible,” promised Lenarcic.

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