Three months have passed since the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey on February 6, and the magnitude of the catastrophic losses in both countries is becoming increasingly clear. The weight of these losses is particularly pronounced in Syria, which has already been ravaged by years of war, infrastructure destruction, and a lack of preparedness for disasters. In stark contrast, Turkey seems to be capable of recovering from the physical impact of the earthquake within a few years. As the demand for shelter, education, medicine, food, and other necessities across Syria continues to rise, the humanitarian and relief assistance programs remain unstable, providing coverage for only a quarter of the current requirements.

Preliminary Statistics

Figures provided by humanitarian and relief organizations, as well as research centers, vary in assessing the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake. Such discrepancies are caused by differences in statistical tools, survey team sizes, and documentation mechanisms. 

According to the most recent statistics released by the Response Coordinators Team operating in areas outside the control of the regime in northwestern Syria, the number of families affected has reached 334,821, comprising a total of 1,843,911 individuals. Out of these, 48,122 families, totaling 311,662 individuals, have been compelled to leave their homes. It’s worth noting that 67% of those displaced are children, women, and individuals with special needs. Furthermore, the number of individuals arriving from Turkey into Syrian territory has reached 67,718, 90% of them either residing with relatives or accommodated in newly constructed camps and shelters.

The Response Coordinators Team have documented the loss of 4,256 lives and the injury of 11,774 individuals, while 67 people are still unaccounted for. Their report also provides a breakdown of the damage suffered by various facilities and infrastructure: a total of 433 educational facilities (schools), 73 healthcare facilities, 83 places of worship, and 94 other public facilities have been reported as damaged. Within the camps, 136 housing units have been affected. And in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, 2,171 buildings collapsed. Furthermore, 5,344 buildings are deemed unsafe for habitation and cannot be restored, and 14,844 buildings require reinforcement to ensure their safety for reoccupation. There are also 23,738 buildings that are currently considered safe but in need of maintenance. Lastly, there are 214 buildings that were demolished post-earthquake due to their vulnerability to collapse.

“There is a pressing need to coordinate the efforts of Syrian human rights institutions and humanitarian organizations in calling for an investigation and initiating a process to hold UN officials accountable for their failure to provide aid to Syrians immediately after the earthquake. These efforts should aim to transition from a mere expression of anger to a sustained, long-term campaign. One might argue that the issue is complex, and indeed, so is holding all those acting with impunity in Syria accountable. However, collective endeavors to establish the demand for accountability and to raise it unequivocally are not only valuable for seeking justice against officials who neglected their duty, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. They also constitute an intervention in the public arena, defending the inherent value of Syrian women and men’s lives and dignity. While the earthquake may be considered a natural disaster, the continuous undervaluation of the lives of Syrians in international corridors without accountability or consequences is unacceptable and cannot be deemed natural”.

 

Two weeks of failure from the UN in Syria, Qasem Albasri and Yassin Swehat

 

“The lack of official support, coupled with discrimination and racist treatment, has compelled thousands of distressed Syrian families to return to Syria. Following the earthquake, the Turkish government assured its commitment to providing compensation for all those affected, including damaged homes, vehicles, agricultural lands, industrial establishments, and service businesses, within a thirty-day period after assessing the extent of the damage. However, no statement has been released by any party regarding a comparable response for the affected Syrians, nor any measures to safeguard them from the growing tide of racism and frequent attacks they endure”.

 

Syrians to the back!, Heaven Jackaly

 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, expressed his understanding of the decision of some Syrians to return to their country following the earthquake. However, he expressed concern regarding the promises made by the Turkish government to allow their return to Turkey. Abdul Ghani pointed out that “many of these individuals hold residency permits, and some even possess Turkish citizenship. However, there is apprehension that Turkish authorities may view their departure from Turkey as an opportunity and may not facilitate their re-entry easily”.

International failure and calls for accountability

The United Nations has acknowledged its failure to provide timely assistance during the initial eight days following the earthquake in northwestern Syria, which is outside regime control. This negligence prevented the entry of crucial humanitarian aid and search and rescue equipment that could have played a vital role in rescuing those trapped and recovering victims from under the rubble. The United Nations has also committed to conducting an investigation into the reasons behind this negligence, which has faced criticism from various Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian, and journalistic organizations. However, to date, there have been no updates regarding the progress or outcomes of the investigation.

“There is a pressing need to coordinate the efforts of Syrian human rights institutions and humanitarian organizations in calling for an investigation and initiating a process to hold UN officials accountable for their failure to provide aid to Syrians immediately after the earthquake. These efforts should aim to transition from a mere expression of anger to a sustained, long-term campaign. One might argue that the issue is complex, and indeed, so is holding all those acting with impunity in Syria accountable. However, collective endeavors to establish the demand for accountability and to raise it unequivocally are not only valuable for seeking justice against officials who neglected their duty, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. They also constitute an intervention in the public arena, defending the inherent value of Syrian women and men’s lives and dignity. While the earthquake may be considered a natural disaster, the continuous undervaluation of the lives of Syrians in international corridors without accountability or consequences is unacceptable and cannot be deemed natural”.

 

Two weeks of failure from the UN in Syria, Qasem Albasri and Yassin Swehat

 

“Prior to the earthquake, hospitals and healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria were already struggling to provide for the existing population, including both local residents and displaced individuals from other regions in Syria. Syrian patients in good health often had to travel across the border into Turkey for hospital treatment or rely on limited healthcare services provided by non-governmental organizations that had been operating in northern Syria for the past three years. The situation in hospitals within areas controlled by the Syrian regime was not any better. The majority of Syrians relied on the private and civil medical sector, as well as financial support from relatives and assistance from religious and charitable organizations to cover the costs of private healthcare and meet the increasing medical needs”.

 

Under the rubble of public health in Syria, Kholoud al-Saba

Alarming Legal and Humanitarian Conditions for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

According to a report published by the Wilson Center, the already dire living conditions of Syrian refugees have been greatly exacerbated in the aftermath of the earthquake. The report highlights the severe lack of government aid and healthcare assistance for Syrian refugees residing in Hatay province, Turkey. In response to the earthquakes, the Turkish government announced on February 15 that Syrian refugees with residency permits in the most affected provinces would be allowed to return to their country for a period of three to six months. Turkish authorities issued a warning, stating that failure to adhere to these deadlines would result in the cancellation of residency permits – seemingly an effort to push a significant number of Syrian refugees affected by the earthquake beyond Turkish borders, thereby evading any responsibility towards them.

“The lack of official support, coupled with discrimination and racist treatment, has compelled thousands of distressed Syrian families to return to Syria. Following the earthquake, the Turkish government assured its commitment to providing compensation for all those affected, including damaged homes, vehicles, agricultural lands, industrial establishments, and service businesses, within a thirty-day period after assessing the extent of the damage. However, no statement has been released by any party regarding a comparable response for the affected Syrians, nor any measures to safeguard them from the growing tide of racism and frequent attacks they endure”.

 

Syrians to the back!, Heaven Jackaly

 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, expressed his understanding of the decision of some Syrians to return to their country following the earthquake. However, he expressed concern regarding the promises made by the Turkish government to allow their return to Turkey. Abdul Ghani pointed out that “many of these individuals hold residency permits, and some even possess Turkish citizenship. However, there is apprehension that Turkish authorities may view their departure from Turkey as an opportunity and may not facilitate their re-entry easily”.

International failure and calls for accountability

The United Nations has acknowledged its failure to provide timely assistance during the initial eight days following the earthquake in northwestern Syria, which is outside regime control. This negligence prevented the entry of crucial humanitarian aid and search and rescue equipment that could have played a vital role in rescuing those trapped and recovering victims from under the rubble. The United Nations has also committed to conducting an investigation into the reasons behind this negligence, which has faced criticism from various Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian, and journalistic organizations. However, to date, there have been no updates regarding the progress or outcomes of the investigation.

“There is a pressing need to coordinate the efforts of Syrian human rights institutions and humanitarian organizations in calling for an investigation and initiating a process to hold UN officials accountable for their failure to provide aid to Syrians immediately after the earthquake. These efforts should aim to transition from a mere expression of anger to a sustained, long-term campaign. One might argue that the issue is complex, and indeed, so is holding all those acting with impunity in Syria accountable. However, collective endeavors to establish the demand for accountability and to raise it unequivocally are not only valuable for seeking justice against officials who neglected their duty, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. They also constitute an intervention in the public arena, defending the inherent value of Syrian women and men’s lives and dignity. While the earthquake may be considered a natural disaster, the continuous undervaluation of the lives of Syrians in international corridors without accountability or consequences is unacceptable and cannot be deemed natural”.

 

Two weeks of failure from the UN in Syria, Qasem Albasri and Yassin Swehat

 

“Thousands of Syrian men and women, at home and in diaspora, have extended their helping hands to their fellow citizens in the affected areas. They proved that, despite all, there is still will and energy among Syrians to work together and to protect each other. This energy must now move beyond temporary surges. Instead of pausing our lives for a short while to meet the demands of the emergency, we must create a sustainable, long-term strategy for symbiotic social solidarity, financed by whatever time and resources capable Syrians can afford. The Syrian diaspora, in particular, is called upon to start thinking and planning in this regard”.

 

Syrian solidarity is a long marathon, not a sprint, Al-Jumhuriya Collective

Earthquake diplomacy

In the aftermath of the earthquake, it took only a few days for Arab diplomacy to spring into action with official tours and visits to Damascus. In the initial days following the earthquake, the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, received phone calls from prominent Arab leaders, including the Egyptian president, the Jordanian king, the Sultan of Oman, and the king of Bahrain. On February 12, just six days after the devastating earthquake, the UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, arrived in Damascus for a meeting with Assad. This marked their second meeting since the beginning of the year. Following suit, Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, arrived on February 15 as part of a tour that encompassed Syria and Turkey, with the objective of assessing the humanitarian situation in both countries, as stated in the official statement issued by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.

However, initial diplomatic meetings and contacts between presidents, which at first focused on addressing the aftermath of the earthquake, soon shifted towards discussions on the political trajectory and potential normalization with the Syrian regime. This shift was officially marked by Assad’s visit to the Omani capital, Muscat, in early February. Following his return to Damascus, Assad received delegations of representatives from various Arab parliaments, who convened in Lebanon for meetings. Additionally, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri paid a visit to Assad before the end of February.

The official visit of Assad and his wife, Asma, to the UAE was regarded as a significant step towards Arab normalization with the Syrian regime. However, it was the visit of Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi Foreign Minister, that held particular significance, considering the decade-long Saudi boycott of Damascus. Following this visit, Riyadh initiated public efforts to encourage other Arab nations to reestablish relations with the regime and support the restoration of Syria’s seat in the Arab League.

At the same time, Arab countries dispatched planes carrying humanitarian aid to regime-held areas in Syria. On February 7, Algerian and Egyptian planes arrived, followed by Saudi Arabia’s first aid plane, as well as several Emirati aid planes received by the Damascus and Aleppo airports on February 10. This assistance was seen as a pivotal moment, breaking the barriers of estrangement and paving the way for the restoration of relations and dialogue between Arab countries and the Syrian regime.

Despite the acceleration of the normalization process with the Syrian regime, Arab countries lacked a coherent and unified plan regarding a political trajectory. This resulted in confusion among a group of Arab countries who expressed reservations about providing Assad with unconditional grants, without securing any binding commitments on several crucial issues. As a result, a small group of countries held a meeting with the Syrian regime’s foreign minister in Amman and devised a sort of road map outlining the necessary prerequisites for restoring relations with the Syrian regime.

Contrary to initial expectations, Arab diplomatic efforts quickly shifted their focus away from the earthquake that struck Syria. Although the term “earthquake diplomacy” lingered, it became apparent that what truly persisted was the pursuit of unrestricted normalization with the Syrian regime.

Key events in Arab “earthquake diplomacy”

Event Date
Phone call from the King of JordanContact from the presidents of Egypt and AlgeriaCall from the Sultan of OmanCall from the King of Bahrain February 7
Condolence calls from the presidents of Iraq, Palestine, and Tunisia February 8
Messages of condolence from president of the UAE and the President of the Sudanese Sovereign Council February 9
Visit from the UAE Minister of Foreign AffairsCall from the president of Mauritania  February 12
Visit from Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs  February 15
Visit from the head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces February 16
Visit from the Lebanese-Syrian Parliamentary Brotherhood and Friendship Committee February 19
Arrival of Bashar al-Assad on an official visit to the Sultanate of Oman February 20
Arrival of Arab parliamentary delegations to Damascus February 26
Visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister to Damascus February 27
Bashar and Asma al-Assad’s visit to the UAE March 19
Contact with the Algerian president April 3
Bashar al-Assad receives the Saudi Foreign Minister in Damascus April 18

Damage to mental health

The psychological impact caused by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has become a prominent concern. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) stressed the urgent need for a sustainable, long-term response to address the physical, mental, and psychosocial needs of the affected population, with the aim of preventing a “second catastrophe”. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) “many survivors are experiencing high levels of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. They suffer from recurring nightmares, memory loss, and loss of appetite. The ongoing aftershocks exacerbate their fears, as it triggers memories of past traumatic experiences and fuels concerns of another disaster looming”. It is estimated that over a million people in northwest Syria require mental and psychosocial support, yet there are only 24 psychologists currently available to provide assistance.

“Prior to the earthquake, hospitals and healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria were already struggling to provide for the existing population, including both local residents and displaced individuals from other regions in Syria. Syrian patients in good health often had to travel across the border into Turkey for hospital treatment or rely on limited healthcare services provided by non-governmental organizations that had been operating in northern Syria for the past three years. The situation in hospitals within areas controlled by the Syrian regime was not any better. The majority of Syrians relied on the private and civil medical sector, as well as financial support from relatives and assistance from religious and charitable organizations to cover the costs of private healthcare and meet the increasing medical needs”.

 

Under the rubble of public health in Syria, Kholoud al-Saba

Alarming Legal and Humanitarian Conditions for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

According to a report published by the Wilson Center, the already dire living conditions of Syrian refugees have been greatly exacerbated in the aftermath of the earthquake. The report highlights the severe lack of government aid and healthcare assistance for Syrian refugees residing in Hatay province, Turkey. In response to the earthquakes, the Turkish government announced on February 15 that Syrian refugees with residency permits in the most affected provinces would be allowed to return to their country for a period of three to six months. Turkish authorities issued a warning, stating that failure to adhere to these deadlines would result in the cancellation of residency permits – seemingly an effort to push a significant number of Syrian refugees affected by the earthquake beyond Turkish borders, thereby evading any responsibility towards them.

“The lack of official support, coupled with discrimination and racist treatment, has compelled thousands of distressed Syrian families to return to Syria. Following the earthquake, the Turkish government assured its commitment to providing compensation for all those affected, including damaged homes, vehicles, agricultural lands, industrial establishments, and service businesses, within a thirty-day period after assessing the extent of the damage. However, no statement has been released by any party regarding a comparable response for the affected Syrians, nor any measures to safeguard them from the growing tide of racism and frequent attacks they endure”.

 

Syrians to the back!, Heaven Jackaly

 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, expressed his understanding of the decision of some Syrians to return to their country following the earthquake. However, he expressed concern regarding the promises made by the Turkish government to allow their return to Turkey. Abdul Ghani pointed out that “many of these individuals hold residency permits, and some even possess Turkish citizenship. However, there is apprehension that Turkish authorities may view their departure from Turkey as an opportunity and may not facilitate their re-entry easily”.

International failure and calls for accountability

The United Nations has acknowledged its failure to provide timely assistance during the initial eight days following the earthquake in northwestern Syria, which is outside regime control. This negligence prevented the entry of crucial humanitarian aid and search and rescue equipment that could have played a vital role in rescuing those trapped and recovering victims from under the rubble. The United Nations has also committed to conducting an investigation into the reasons behind this negligence, which has faced criticism from various Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian, and journalistic organizations. However, to date, there have been no updates regarding the progress or outcomes of the investigation.

“There is a pressing need to coordinate the efforts of Syrian human rights institutions and humanitarian organizations in calling for an investigation and initiating a process to hold UN officials accountable for their failure to provide aid to Syrians immediately after the earthquake. These efforts should aim to transition from a mere expression of anger to a sustained, long-term campaign. One might argue that the issue is complex, and indeed, so is holding all those acting with impunity in Syria accountable. However, collective endeavors to establish the demand for accountability and to raise it unequivocally are not only valuable for seeking justice against officials who neglected their duty, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. They also constitute an intervention in the public arena, defending the inherent value of Syrian women and men’s lives and dignity. While the earthquake may be considered a natural disaster, the continuous undervaluation of the lives of Syrians in international corridors without accountability or consequences is unacceptable and cannot be deemed natural”.

 

Two weeks of failure from the UN in Syria, Qasem Albasri and Yassin Swehat

 

“According to the assessments carried out by engineering committees to evaluate the damage, a total of 248 schools in the governorates of Tartous, Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama, and the countryside of Idlib have been impacted by the earthquake.”

 

Darem Tabbaa, the Minister of Education in the Syrian regime

Economic estimates from the World Bank

The World Bank assessed the damages caused by the earthquake in Syria to be around $3.7 billion, while the losses incurred amounted to approximately $1.5 billion. The total combined value, therefore, reached $5.2 billion. The losses incurred encompass a decline in production within various sectors, reduced revenues, and increased operational costs in service provision. The housing sector tops the list of affected sectors with 24% of the total damages, followed by the transport and environment sectors (as a result of the costs associated with removing rubble), and finally the agricultural sector, which due to a shortage of food supplies incurred losses amounting to $1.3 billion (83% of the total losses). According to World Bank estimates, Aleppo governorate experienced the greatest amount of damage, constituting 44% of the total damages, mainly affecting the housing and agriculture sectors. Idlib governorate follows with 21% of the damages. The city of Aleppo stands out as the most affected city, representing approximately 60% of the total damage, followed by Latakia at 12% and Azaz at 10%.

The World Bank’s report indicates that the earthquake is expected to further impact Syria’s real GDP, resulting in an additional 2.3 percentage point contraction in 2023. This is in addition to the previously projected contraction of 3.2 percent for the same year, as outlined in the Syria Economic Monitor – Winter 2022/2023. The heightened decline is primarily attributed to the destruction of physical infrastructure and disruptions in commercial activities. As a consequence, a significant increase in the inflation rate is expected. This surge can be attributed to multiple factors, including the scarcity of available goods, rising transportation costs, and the overall surge in demand for reconstruction materials.

Donor conference in Brussels and a national earthquake fund

On Monday, March 20, an extraordinary conference for donor countries took place in Brussels, Belgium, to support Turkey and Syria in the aftermath of the February 6 earthquake. The conference was held under the auspices of Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and Ulf Christerson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, as Sweden currently holds the presidency of the European Union. The conference, which lasted only one day, witnessed the participation of international donors from over 60 countries, as well as European bodies and international organizations. Pledges totaling nearly €7 billion were made to assist the affected populations in Turkey and Syria. Out of this amount, more than €6 billion were allocated as grants and loans for Turkey, while €950 million were dedicated as grants for “the Syrian people”, in the words of most of the conference attendees. Among the contributors, the European Commission emerged as the largest donor by committing €1 billion for Turkey’s reconstruction efforts, along with €108 million (approximately $115 million) in humanitarian aid for Syria. Pledges from the European Commission, European Union Member States, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development collectively accounted for more than 50% of the overall grant pledges, amounting to a sum of €3.6 billion.

On May 1, Bashar al-Assad, issued a legislative decree establishing a “national fund” aimed at providing support to those affected by the earthquake, and “managing and organizing financial resources and donations”. As per the decree, relief committees in the affected governorates will be responsible for implementing financial support measures for affected individuals, as determined by the fund. To facilitate the process, the fund will open current bank accounts to receive grants, subsidies, endowments, bequests, donations, and financial contributions from both local and international sources. The announcement of the fund can be viewed as a strategic maneuver to capitalize on its exemption from Western sanctions. It also aims to facilitate the flow of funds into the treasury of the Syrian regime from countries that have initiated political reconciliation efforts following the earthquake.

“Thousands of Syrian men and women, at home and in diaspora, have extended their helping hands to their fellow citizens in the affected areas. They proved that, despite all, there is still will and energy among Syrians to work together and to protect each other. This energy must now move beyond temporary surges. Instead of pausing our lives for a short while to meet the demands of the emergency, we must create a sustainable, long-term strategy for symbiotic social solidarity, financed by whatever time and resources capable Syrians can afford. The Syrian diaspora, in particular, is called upon to start thinking and planning in this regard”.

 

Syrian solidarity is a long marathon, not a sprint, Al-Jumhuriya Collective

Earthquake diplomacy

In the aftermath of the earthquake, it took only a few days for Arab diplomacy to spring into action with official tours and visits to Damascus. In the initial days following the earthquake, the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, received phone calls from prominent Arab leaders, including the Egyptian president, the Jordanian king, the Sultan of Oman, and the king of Bahrain. On February 12, just six days after the devastating earthquake, the UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, arrived in Damascus for a meeting with Assad. This marked their second meeting since the beginning of the year. Following suit, Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, arrived on February 15 as part of a tour that encompassed Syria and Turkey, with the objective of assessing the humanitarian situation in both countries, as stated in the official statement issued by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.

However, initial diplomatic meetings and contacts between presidents, which at first focused on addressing the aftermath of the earthquake, soon shifted towards discussions on the political trajectory and potential normalization with the Syrian regime. This shift was officially marked by Assad’s visit to the Omani capital, Muscat, in early February. Following his return to Damascus, Assad received delegations of representatives from various Arab parliaments, who convened in Lebanon for meetings. Additionally, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri paid a visit to Assad before the end of February.

The official visit of Assad and his wife, Asma, to the UAE was regarded as a significant step towards Arab normalization with the Syrian regime. However, it was the visit of Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi Foreign Minister, that held particular significance, considering the decade-long Saudi boycott of Damascus. Following this visit, Riyadh initiated public efforts to encourage other Arab nations to reestablish relations with the regime and support the restoration of Syria’s seat in the Arab League.

At the same time, Arab countries dispatched planes carrying humanitarian aid to regime-held areas in Syria. On February 7, Algerian and Egyptian planes arrived, followed by Saudi Arabia’s first aid plane, as well as several Emirati aid planes received by the Damascus and Aleppo airports on February 10. This assistance was seen as a pivotal moment, breaking the barriers of estrangement and paving the way for the restoration of relations and dialogue between Arab countries and the Syrian regime.

Despite the acceleration of the normalization process with the Syrian regime, Arab countries lacked a coherent and unified plan regarding a political trajectory. This resulted in confusion among a group of Arab countries who expressed reservations about providing Assad with unconditional grants, without securing any binding commitments on several crucial issues. As a result, a small group of countries held a meeting with the Syrian regime’s foreign minister in Amman and devised a sort of road map outlining the necessary prerequisites for restoring relations with the Syrian regime.

Contrary to initial expectations, Arab diplomatic efforts quickly shifted their focus away from the earthquake that struck Syria. Although the term “earthquake diplomacy” lingered, it became apparent that what truly persisted was the pursuit of unrestricted normalization with the Syrian regime.

Key events in Arab “earthquake diplomacy”

Event Date
Phone call from the King of JordanContact from the presidents of Egypt and AlgeriaCall from the Sultan of OmanCall from the King of Bahrain February 7
Condolence calls from the presidents of Iraq, Palestine, and Tunisia February 8
Messages of condolence from president of the UAE and the President of the Sudanese Sovereign Council February 9
Visit from the UAE Minister of Foreign AffairsCall from the president of Mauritania  February 12
Visit from Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs  February 15
Visit from the head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces February 16
Visit from the Lebanese-Syrian Parliamentary Brotherhood and Friendship Committee February 19
Arrival of Bashar al-Assad on an official visit to the Sultanate of Oman February 20
Arrival of Arab parliamentary delegations to Damascus February 26
Visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister to Damascus February 27
Bashar and Asma al-Assad’s visit to the UAE March 19
Contact with the Algerian president April 3
Bashar al-Assad receives the Saudi Foreign Minister in Damascus April 18

Damage to mental health

The psychological impact caused by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has become a prominent concern. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) stressed the urgent need for a sustainable, long-term response to address the physical, mental, and psychosocial needs of the affected population, with the aim of preventing a “second catastrophe”. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) “many survivors are experiencing high levels of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. They suffer from recurring nightmares, memory loss, and loss of appetite. The ongoing aftershocks exacerbate their fears, as it triggers memories of past traumatic experiences and fuels concerns of another disaster looming”. It is estimated that over a million people in northwest Syria require mental and psychosocial support, yet there are only 24 psychologists currently available to provide assistance.

“Prior to the earthquake, hospitals and healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria were already struggling to provide for the existing population, including both local residents and displaced individuals from other regions in Syria. Syrian patients in good health often had to travel across the border into Turkey for hospital treatment or rely on limited healthcare services provided by non-governmental organizations that had been operating in northern Syria for the past three years. The situation in hospitals within areas controlled by the Syrian regime was not any better. The majority of Syrians relied on the private and civil medical sector, as well as financial support from relatives and assistance from religious and charitable organizations to cover the costs of private healthcare and meet the increasing medical needs”.

 

Under the rubble of public health in Syria, Kholoud al-Saba

Alarming Legal and Humanitarian Conditions for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

According to a report published by the Wilson Center, the already dire living conditions of Syrian refugees have been greatly exacerbated in the aftermath of the earthquake. The report highlights the severe lack of government aid and healthcare assistance for Syrian refugees residing in Hatay province, Turkey. In response to the earthquakes, the Turkish government announced on February 15 that Syrian refugees with residency permits in the most affected provinces would be allowed to return to their country for a period of three to six months. Turkish authorities issued a warning, stating that failure to adhere to these deadlines would result in the cancellation of residency permits – seemingly an effort to push a significant number of Syrian refugees affected by the earthquake beyond Turkish borders, thereby evading any responsibility towards them.

“The lack of official support, coupled with discrimination and racist treatment, has compelled thousands of distressed Syrian families to return to Syria. Following the earthquake, the Turkish government assured its commitment to providing compensation for all those affected, including damaged homes, vehicles, agricultural lands, industrial establishments, and service businesses, within a thirty-day period after assessing the extent of the damage. However, no statement has been released by any party regarding a comparable response for the affected Syrians, nor any measures to safeguard them from the growing tide of racism and frequent attacks they endure”.

 

Syrians to the back!, Heaven Jackaly

 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, expressed his understanding of the decision of some Syrians to return to their country following the earthquake. However, he expressed concern regarding the promises made by the Turkish government to allow their return to Turkey. Abdul Ghani pointed out that “many of these individuals hold residency permits, and some even possess Turkish citizenship. However, there is apprehension that Turkish authorities may view their departure from Turkey as an opportunity and may not facilitate their re-entry easily”.

International failure and calls for accountability

The United Nations has acknowledged its failure to provide timely assistance during the initial eight days following the earthquake in northwestern Syria, which is outside regime control. This negligence prevented the entry of crucial humanitarian aid and search and rescue equipment that could have played a vital role in rescuing those trapped and recovering victims from under the rubble. The United Nations has also committed to conducting an investigation into the reasons behind this negligence, which has faced criticism from various Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian, and journalistic organizations. However, to date, there have been no updates regarding the progress or outcomes of the investigation.

“There is a pressing need to coordinate the efforts of Syrian human rights institutions and humanitarian organizations in calling for an investigation and initiating a process to hold UN officials accountable for their failure to provide aid to Syrians immediately after the earthquake. These efforts should aim to transition from a mere expression of anger to a sustained, long-term campaign. One might argue that the issue is complex, and indeed, so is holding all those acting with impunity in Syria accountable. However, collective endeavors to establish the demand for accountability and to raise it unequivocally are not only valuable for seeking justice against officials who neglected their duty, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. They also constitute an intervention in the public arena, defending the inherent value of Syrian women and men’s lives and dignity. While the earthquake may be considered a natural disaster, the continuous undervaluation of the lives of Syrians in international corridors without accountability or consequences is unacceptable and cannot be deemed natural”.

 

Two weeks of failure from the UN in Syria, Qasem Albasri and Yassin Swehat

 

“The earthquake severely affected the schools of Jindires in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria. According to the figures provided by the town’s local council, out of a total of 45 schools, 24 suffered substantial damage. These schools hold approximately 40,000 students. In response to the earthquake, some of these schools were used as shelters, and the schools that were deemed structurally compromised or at risk of collapse were promptly closed to ensure the safety of the students”.

 

Jindires Local Council

The Response Coordinators Team recorded economic losses totaling nearly $2 billion, and over 13,643 families have lost their source of income due to the earthquake. Around 3,452 trucks and relief convoys crossed the borders, with international aid accounting for 36.04% of the total (around 1,244 trucks). The overall humanitarian response rate did not exceed 39.87% across all humanitarian sectors, and the response rate for those affected by the earthquake has been limited to 24.56%.

In the areas under the control of the Syrian regime, the Ministry of Health, in its latest update, stated that the number of earthquake casualties in Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia amounted to 1,414. However, obtaining clear and up-to-date information on the losses in these areas is challenging due to the lack of official updates. In contrast, in areas outside the control of the regime, multiple civil society organizations have actively worked to document the extent of the losses.

Regarding the number of Syrian victims affected by the earthquake within Turkish borders, the Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented 6,319 victims. However, during a press conference, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu stated that the number of victims surpassed 4,000, without providing specific information about the geographic distribution of the victims or the total number of bodies repatriated to Syrian territory.

“According to the assessments carried out by engineering committees to evaluate the damage, a total of 248 schools in the governorates of Tartous, Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama, and the countryside of Idlib have been impacted by the earthquake.”

 

Darem Tabbaa, the Minister of Education in the Syrian regime

Economic estimates from the World Bank

The World Bank assessed the damages caused by the earthquake in Syria to be around $3.7 billion, while the losses incurred amounted to approximately $1.5 billion. The total combined value, therefore, reached $5.2 billion. The losses incurred encompass a decline in production within various sectors, reduced revenues, and increased operational costs in service provision. The housing sector tops the list of affected sectors with 24% of the total damages, followed by the transport and environment sectors (as a result of the costs associated with removing rubble), and finally the agricultural sector, which due to a shortage of food supplies incurred losses amounting to $1.3 billion (83% of the total losses). According to World Bank estimates, Aleppo governorate experienced the greatest amount of damage, constituting 44% of the total damages, mainly affecting the housing and agriculture sectors. Idlib governorate follows with 21% of the damages. The city of Aleppo stands out as the most affected city, representing approximately 60% of the total damage, followed by Latakia at 12% and Azaz at 10%.

The World Bank’s report indicates that the earthquake is expected to further impact Syria’s real GDP, resulting in an additional 2.3 percentage point contraction in 2023. This is in addition to the previously projected contraction of 3.2 percent for the same year, as outlined in the Syria Economic Monitor – Winter 2022/2023. The heightened decline is primarily attributed to the destruction of physical infrastructure and disruptions in commercial activities. As a consequence, a significant increase in the inflation rate is expected. This surge can be attributed to multiple factors, including the scarcity of available goods, rising transportation costs, and the overall surge in demand for reconstruction materials.

Donor conference in Brussels and a national earthquake fund

On Monday, March 20, an extraordinary conference for donor countries took place in Brussels, Belgium, to support Turkey and Syria in the aftermath of the February 6 earthquake. The conference was held under the auspices of Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and Ulf Christerson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, as Sweden currently holds the presidency of the European Union. The conference, which lasted only one day, witnessed the participation of international donors from over 60 countries, as well as European bodies and international organizations. Pledges totaling nearly €7 billion were made to assist the affected populations in Turkey and Syria. Out of this amount, more than €6 billion were allocated as grants and loans for Turkey, while €950 million were dedicated as grants for “the Syrian people”, in the words of most of the conference attendees. Among the contributors, the European Commission emerged as the largest donor by committing €1 billion for Turkey’s reconstruction efforts, along with €108 million (approximately $115 million) in humanitarian aid for Syria. Pledges from the European Commission, European Union Member States, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development collectively accounted for more than 50% of the overall grant pledges, amounting to a sum of €3.6 billion.

On May 1, Bashar al-Assad, issued a legislative decree establishing a “national fund” aimed at providing support to those affected by the earthquake, and “managing and organizing financial resources and donations”. As per the decree, relief committees in the affected governorates will be responsible for implementing financial support measures for affected individuals, as determined by the fund. To facilitate the process, the fund will open current bank accounts to receive grants, subsidies, endowments, bequests, donations, and financial contributions from both local and international sources. The announcement of the fund can be viewed as a strategic maneuver to capitalize on its exemption from Western sanctions. It also aims to facilitate the flow of funds into the treasury of the Syrian regime from countries that have initiated political reconciliation efforts following the earthquake.

“Thousands of Syrian men and women, at home and in diaspora, have extended their helping hands to their fellow citizens in the affected areas. They proved that, despite all, there is still will and energy among Syrians to work together and to protect each other. This energy must now move beyond temporary surges. Instead of pausing our lives for a short while to meet the demands of the emergency, we must create a sustainable, long-term strategy for symbiotic social solidarity, financed by whatever time and resources capable Syrians can afford. The Syrian diaspora, in particular, is called upon to start thinking and planning in this regard”.

 

Syrian solidarity is a long marathon, not a sprint, Al-Jumhuriya Collective

Earthquake diplomacy

In the aftermath of the earthquake, it took only a few days for Arab diplomacy to spring into action with official tours and visits to Damascus. In the initial days following the earthquake, the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, received phone calls from prominent Arab leaders, including the Egyptian president, the Jordanian king, the Sultan of Oman, and the king of Bahrain. On February 12, just six days after the devastating earthquake, the UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, arrived in Damascus for a meeting with Assad. This marked their second meeting since the beginning of the year. Following suit, Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, arrived on February 15 as part of a tour that encompassed Syria and Turkey, with the objective of assessing the humanitarian situation in both countries, as stated in the official statement issued by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.

However, initial diplomatic meetings and contacts between presidents, which at first focused on addressing the aftermath of the earthquake, soon shifted towards discussions on the political trajectory and potential normalization with the Syrian regime. This shift was officially marked by Assad’s visit to the Omani capital, Muscat, in early February. Following his return to Damascus, Assad received delegations of representatives from various Arab parliaments, who convened in Lebanon for meetings. Additionally, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri paid a visit to Assad before the end of February.

The official visit of Assad and his wife, Asma, to the UAE was regarded as a significant step towards Arab normalization with the Syrian regime. However, it was the visit of Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi Foreign Minister, that held particular significance, considering the decade-long Saudi boycott of Damascus. Following this visit, Riyadh initiated public efforts to encourage other Arab nations to reestablish relations with the regime and support the restoration of Syria’s seat in the Arab League.

At the same time, Arab countries dispatched planes carrying humanitarian aid to regime-held areas in Syria. On February 7, Algerian and Egyptian planes arrived, followed by Saudi Arabia’s first aid plane, as well as several Emirati aid planes received by the Damascus and Aleppo airports on February 10. This assistance was seen as a pivotal moment, breaking the barriers of estrangement and paving the way for the restoration of relations and dialogue between Arab countries and the Syrian regime.

Despite the acceleration of the normalization process with the Syrian regime, Arab countries lacked a coherent and unified plan regarding a political trajectory. This resulted in confusion among a group of Arab countries who expressed reservations about providing Assad with unconditional grants, without securing any binding commitments on several crucial issues. As a result, a small group of countries held a meeting with the Syrian regime’s foreign minister in Amman and devised a sort of road map outlining the necessary prerequisites for restoring relations with the Syrian regime.

Contrary to initial expectations, Arab diplomatic efforts quickly shifted their focus away from the earthquake that struck Syria. Although the term “earthquake diplomacy” lingered, it became apparent that what truly persisted was the pursuit of unrestricted normalization with the Syrian regime.

Key events in Arab “earthquake diplomacy”

Event Date
Phone call from the King of JordanContact from the presidents of Egypt and AlgeriaCall from the Sultan of OmanCall from the King of Bahrain February 7
Condolence calls from the presidents of Iraq, Palestine, and Tunisia February 8
Messages of condolence from president of the UAE and the President of the Sudanese Sovereign Council February 9
Visit from the UAE Minister of Foreign AffairsCall from the president of Mauritania  February 12
Visit from Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs  February 15
Visit from the head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces February 16
Visit from the Lebanese-Syrian Parliamentary Brotherhood and Friendship Committee February 19
Arrival of Bashar al-Assad on an official visit to the Sultanate of Oman February 20
Arrival of Arab parliamentary delegations to Damascus February 26
Visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister to Damascus February 27
Bashar and Asma al-Assad’s visit to the UAE March 19
Contact with the Algerian president April 3
Bashar al-Assad receives the Saudi Foreign Minister in Damascus April 18

Damage to mental health

The psychological impact caused by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has become a prominent concern. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) stressed the urgent need for a sustainable, long-term response to address the physical, mental, and psychosocial needs of the affected population, with the aim of preventing a “second catastrophe”. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) “many survivors are experiencing high levels of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. They suffer from recurring nightmares, memory loss, and loss of appetite. The ongoing aftershocks exacerbate their fears, as it triggers memories of past traumatic experiences and fuels concerns of another disaster looming”. It is estimated that over a million people in northwest Syria require mental and psychosocial support, yet there are only 24 psychologists currently available to provide assistance.

“Prior to the earthquake, hospitals and healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria were already struggling to provide for the existing population, including both local residents and displaced individuals from other regions in Syria. Syrian patients in good health often had to travel across the border into Turkey for hospital treatment or rely on limited healthcare services provided by non-governmental organizations that had been operating in northern Syria for the past three years. The situation in hospitals within areas controlled by the Syrian regime was not any better. The majority of Syrians relied on the private and civil medical sector, as well as financial support from relatives and assistance from religious and charitable organizations to cover the costs of private healthcare and meet the increasing medical needs”.

 

Under the rubble of public health in Syria, Kholoud al-Saba

Alarming Legal and Humanitarian Conditions for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

According to a report published by the Wilson Center, the already dire living conditions of Syrian refugees have been greatly exacerbated in the aftermath of the earthquake. The report highlights the severe lack of government aid and healthcare assistance for Syrian refugees residing in Hatay province, Turkey. In response to the earthquakes, the Turkish government announced on February 15 that Syrian refugees with residency permits in the most affected provinces would be allowed to return to their country for a period of three to six months. Turkish authorities issued a warning, stating that failure to adhere to these deadlines would result in the cancellation of residency permits – seemingly an effort to push a significant number of Syrian refugees affected by the earthquake beyond Turkish borders, thereby evading any responsibility towards them.

“The lack of official support, coupled with discrimination and racist treatment, has compelled thousands of distressed Syrian families to return to Syria. Following the earthquake, the Turkish government assured its commitment to providing compensation for all those affected, including damaged homes, vehicles, agricultural lands, industrial establishments, and service businesses, within a thirty-day period after assessing the extent of the damage. However, no statement has been released by any party regarding a comparable response for the affected Syrians, nor any measures to safeguard them from the growing tide of racism and frequent attacks they endure”.

 

Syrians to the back!, Heaven Jackaly

 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Fadel Abdul Ghani, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, expressed his understanding of the decision of some Syrians to return to their country following the earthquake. However, he expressed concern regarding the promises made by the Turkish government to allow their return to Turkey. Abdul Ghani pointed out that “many of these individuals hold residency permits, and some even possess Turkish citizenship. However, there is apprehension that Turkish authorities may view their departure from Turkey as an opportunity and may not facilitate their re-entry easily”.

International failure and calls for accountability

The United Nations has acknowledged its failure to provide timely assistance during the initial eight days following the earthquake in northwestern Syria, which is outside regime control. This negligence prevented the entry of crucial humanitarian aid and search and rescue equipment that could have played a vital role in rescuing those trapped and recovering victims from under the rubble. The United Nations has also committed to conducting an investigation into the reasons behind this negligence, which has faced criticism from various Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian, and journalistic organizations. However, to date, there have been no updates regarding the progress or outcomes of the investigation.

“There is a pressing need to coordinate the efforts of Syrian human rights institutions and humanitarian organizations in calling for an investigation and initiating a process to hold UN officials accountable for their failure to provide aid to Syrians immediately after the earthquake. These efforts should aim to transition from a mere expression of anger to a sustained, long-term campaign. One might argue that the issue is complex, and indeed, so is holding all those acting with impunity in Syria accountable. However, collective endeavors to establish the demand for accountability and to raise it unequivocally are not only valuable for seeking justice against officials who neglected their duty, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. They also constitute an intervention in the public arena, defending the inherent value of Syrian women and men’s lives and dignity. While the earthquake may be considered a natural disaster, the continuous undervaluation of the lives of Syrians in international corridors without accountability or consequences is unacceptable and cannot be deemed natural”.

 

Two weeks of failure from the UN in Syria, Qasem Albasri and Yassin Swehat