In the Syrian city of Idlib, residents feel abandoned. Ten days after the severe earthquake, they still have not received any outside help. In Turkey, rescue teams from dozens of countries searched for survivors under the rubble, while in the opposition area in northwestern Syria, White Helmet volunteers often had to excavate people by hand.
He has lived in war since he was a teenager, but never before has 25-year-old Majd Hamo experienced such a disaster. “I am still in shock and cannot comprehend what happened to us,” says the journalist and activist from Idlib. “I helped the White Helmets pull people out of the rubble, but we didn’t have the resources to excavate the collapsed buildings. No help came, and now it’s too late. Now only corpses are left.”
The White Helmets suspended rescue efforts yesterday and declared a week of mourning. The magnitude of the disaster is far too great for the volunteers to handle on their own. Relief supplies from the United Nations gradually crossed the only border crossing, but it contained no medicines or tools for digging. Dozens of bodies of killed Syrian refugees did return from Turkey to be buried in their native country.
Displaced in their own country
Huda Nasrallah, 22, lost several friends to the earthquake. “We all feel anxious and depressed,” says the psychology student. “We are powerless. The help only came from Idlib itself.” According to official figures, 5800 people were killed in Syria, but the real number is probably much higher.
The opposition area is home to many people who have had to flee war violence several times. This includes Nasrallah, who fled to Idlib six years ago for bombing a suburb of the capital Damascus. People who could not go abroad were left behind. The poorest now live in tent camps.
After 12 years of war, the country is a patchwork of areas under the control of armed groups or the regime. Yesterday, a United Nations convoy carrying relief supplies entered the opposition area after receiving permission from President Assad, especially for earthquake victims. A drop in the ocean for the four million people who were already largely dependent on humanitarian aid.
Aid arrived in the government area last week, including from neighboring Arab countries. The aid goes through Assad’s regime, residents of the opposition area know that they should not expect anything from him. The regime does not provide humanitarian aid to its political opponents and Assad has repeatedly used the tactic of sealing off his own people from the outside world.
Once again, Syrians have been abandoned by the international community, says Hamo. “We have asked the UN and the European Union for help, but we have not received an answer. So many children have been orphaned. The UN has a duty to help us, but they have violated the rights of us as human beings.” In the past, the UN has often withheld aid in opposition areas because Assad’s ally Russia vetoed this.
I can hear the voices of the people, especially the children buried under the rubble, in my head. We couldn’t save them. I feel very guilty about that.
A new period of survival now awaits the hard-hit northwest. People have lost their scarce possessions, and don’t even have a bed to sleep in. Nasrallah now sleeps in one room with her entire family. “Shelter in the form of tents or houses is now most needed,” she says. There is a shortage of foodstuffs such as medicines and baby milk. People need heaters and blankets to protect themselves from the cold.
Many Syrians also suffer from psychological problems. “Just after the earthquake, I didn’t have time to be sad because I had to help with the search,” says Hamo. “Now I hear the voices of the people, especially the children who were under the rubble, in my head again. We couldn’t save them. I feel very guilty about that.”
In addition to his work, Hamo supports traumatized children by cheering them up as a clown, and will continue to do so. Nasrallah also voluntarily gives psychological help in addition to her studies. “We were already not feeling well because of the war, now many Syrians are dealing with a new trauma.”
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