'My heart burns': Syrians turn to social media to locate lost relatives after earthquake

'My heart burns': Syrians turn to social media to locate lost relatives after earthquake
With little other choice, Syrians are turning to social media in hopes of finding their missing relatives in Turkey.
3 min read
14 February, 2023
Many Syrians cannot cross to Turkey, so are forced to rely on social media to locate their loved ones in Turkey. [Getty]

Syrians have taken to social media to find their relatives who went missing in Turkey after the 6 February earthquake, posting pictures of their lost loved ones and descriptions of where they were last seen.

Facebook groups and local media have all circulated pictures of Syrians who have not been heard of since the earthquake, which has left over 37,000 dead since last week.

"The first information I received was from his brother in Syria, that he was missing. After that, I started searching on Facebook, groups and Telegram," Mohammed Kheir, a man from Hama City in Syria who is looking for his nephew, Walid al-Qassem, told The New Arab.

Al-Qassem, a 25-year-old barber who fled Syria during the war and settled in Antakya, in southern Turkey, has not been heard from since the earthquake.

Antakya, a city of about 200,000 with a sizeable Syrian population, was one of the worst hit cities by the earthquake.

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Like many other Syrians, Kheir cannot cross into Turkey due to visa restrictions, so he is forced to rely on the information of friends and Facebook groups to try to triangulate the whereabouts of his nephew.

Turkey took in more than three million Syrian refugees over the course of Syria's civil war, more than any other country. 

Friends of Kheir have searched local hospitals for al-Qassem and registered an application with Turkey's disaster response team to try to locate him but to no avail.

"It is impossible for us to enter Turkey to search … thousands of families have lost their loved ones and are unable to do anything about it. Every now and then we hear news, some true, some false," Kheir said.

First responders in Turkey continue to search for life amidst the rubble, but after a week, hopes have faded that many survivors will be found.

The scale of the earthquake's destruction, with ten cities across Turkey near-levelled, killing more than 37,000 people,  promises weeks of work for bodies to be found among the thousands of destroyed buildings.

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The last Kheir had heard of al-Qassem was that first responders had pulled out his body, lifeless, from the rubble – but he is struggling to verify whether or not this is a rumour or not.

Other Syrians without family or friends in Turkey have turned to the messaging app Telegram, where they exchange photos and lists of names of relatives, hoping someone will have information.

The groups are disorganised and often contain conflicting information, but they have little other choice but to continue to participate in them.

Photos of Syrians who survived the earthquake but are not in a condition to speak to their families circulate in local Facebook groups, asking anybody who knows the family to contact them.

"His name is Obieda, he was in Antakya, and he doesn't remember anything. He's at a hospital in Adana, if anyone knows him," one post showing a picture of a dazed man in a hospital bed says in a group for residents of Hama.

"Waleed is a very kind and simple person. Every person he knows has suffered a lot because of his loss. Our hearts are burning for him," Kheir said.