Earthquake in Turkey: Survivors live in fear on the streets


Songyul Yukesoi washes his dishes thoroughly, soaping the plates and cutlery before rinsing off the bubbles and hanging them out to dry. The scene is unremarkable except that she is outside, sitting in the shadow of her ruined house.

It is leaning at a terrible angle, the window frames are hanging down, and there is a large piece of rusted iron roof lying in the garden.

A month after devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, survivors face an uncertain future. One of their biggest problems is finding a safe place to live. At least 1.5 million people are currently homeless, and it is unclear how long it will take to find them adequate shelter.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s disaster agency Afad says nearly two million people have left the quake zone. Some of them live with friends or loved ones elsewhere in the country. Flights and trains from the region are free for those who want to leave.

But in the city of Samandag, near the Mediterranean coast, Songul clearly understands that she and her family are not going anywhere. “It is very important for us. Whatever happens next – even if the house falls – we will stay here. This is our home, our nest. Everything we have is here. We are not going to leave.”

image captionThe deadly earthquake destroyed properties in the region, leaving thousands of families homeless
Tents appeared everywhere in Samandaz, from scattered new camps to isolated ones scattered among the ruins
image captionTents have appeared everywhere in Samandag, but more are needed

Precious pieces of furniture were carefully removed from the house and displayed outside. On a polished wooden table is a festive souvenir – a picture of seashells from the Turkish resort of Kusadasi. There is a bowl of fruit, white mold is crawling on a large orange. Things that look normal indoors seem strange and out of place when they sit outside.

Currently, the whole family lives in three tents a few steps from the destroyed house. There they sleep and eat, sharing food cooked on a small camping stove. There is no proper toilet, although they have found one in the bathroom and are trying to lower it into a makeshift wooden shed. They even created a small shower area. But it’s all very simple, and the lack of space and privacy is obvious. These tents are cramped and overcrowded.

It was a difficult month for Songul. Seventeen of their relatives died in the earthquake. Her sister Tulay is officially missing. “We don’t know if it’s still under the rubble,” she tells me. “We still don’t know if her body was recovered or not. We are waiting. We cannot begin to mourn. We cannot even find our lost.”

A young girl rests on the train
image captionPeople sleep on car seats in the port city of Iskenderun

Shvarin Songul Husemettin and 11-year-old nephew Lozan died when their apartment building in Iskenderun collapsed around them as they slept. We visited what remained of their home, a sprawling pile of twisted garbage. Neighbors said that three apartment buildings fell.

“We brought Lausanne’s body here,” Songul says quietly. “We took him from the morgue and buried him not far from us in Samandaz. Khusemettin was buried in the cemetery of the anonymous, we found his name there.”

A picture of a smiling family from Thulai’s still active Facebook profile, they are hugging each other and their faces are close. Lozan holds the red ball tightly.

The earthquake-induced homelessness crisis is so acute because of the real shortage of safe places left standing. More than 160,000 buildings collapsed or were badly damaged. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that at least 1.5 million people are still in the earthquake zone with nowhere to live. It is difficult to determine the real number and it could be much higher.

Training booths are arriving, but too slowly. Tents appeared everywhere, from scattered new camps to isolated ones scattered among the rubble. Still not enough. News that the Turkish Red Crescent has sold some of its taxpayer-funded tent stock to the charity – albeit at cost – has sparked disappointment and anger.

In some cities, people still live in public housing.

Songul Yujesoy (center) is now homeless and eats outside a tent
image captionFamilies share tents a few weeks after the disaster

In Adana, I met families sleeping on blankets and mattresses spread out on a volleyball court. In the port city of Iskenderun, they settled on two trains parked at the railway station. The seats have become beds, the luggage racks are filled with personal belongings, and the staff tries to keep things clean and tidy. Tears fill the eyes of one young girl as she hugs a pillow instead of a teddy bear. This is not a home.

It is also difficult for Songul children. Toys and games are stuck in unsafe houses and there is no school. “They are bored, they have nothing to do. They just sit. They play with their phones and then go to bed early when the battery runs out.”

When night falls, it becomes even more difficult. There is currently no electricity in Samandag. Songul draped colorful solar lanterns on her white tent right above the bold UNHCR logo. Homeless in their own country, they are not refugees, but they still lost everything.

Songul Yukesoi in tears
image captionSongul says her family is now living in fear, with aftershocks often keeping them awake at night

“I put the lamps here so they can be seen,” Songul explains. “We are afraid when it gets dark. Lack of electricity is a big problem. The fear is too great, and all night long we feel underground tremors, so it is difficult for us to sleep.” Starting to cry, she wipes her tears with her hand.

“We are free people, we are used to freedom, independence, everyone lives in their own houses,” adds her husband Savas. “But now we are three families, we eat in one tent, we live and sit in one tent.”

“This is all new for us, we don’t know what the future holds. And there is always fear. Our houses are destroyed, what will happen next? We just don’t know.”

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