'Like I lost everything twice': One year after earthquake, displaced Syrians still need our help
The bone chilling cold winds hit me through my insulated jacket as I approached a camp for displaced people in Jindires, one of many in northern Syria.
The slippery wet mud squelched under my feet as I walked towards a sea of dome shaped tents that dotted around the mountainous landscape. Children swarmed me, as I distributed freshly baked bread from our local bread bakery, embracing me with their warm smiles. I couldn’t help but think of the horrifying event they faced a year ago.
In the early hours of the morning on 6th February 2023, a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck northwest Syria and southeastern Turkey, followed hours later by a 7.5 aftershock. It was described as “the worst in 100 years”.
The earthquake was devastating, killing more than 50,000 people in Turkey and more than 5,000 in Syria. In Syria, more than quarter of a million people had their homes destroyed and were displaced, many for the second or even third time after over a decade of war. Today, 43,000 have yet to return home.
These families were originally displaced by the ongoing impacts of Syria’s civil war, which now sees its worst fighting in years. Those that survived the fighting and bombardment were forced to leave their homes and everything they own behind.
"Syria has the largest displacement crisis of our time, with more than 15 million people displaced from their homes"
Prior to the earthquake, millions of displaced Syrians were already reliant on humanitarian aid provided by charities like Muslim Hands. More than 80 percent of the population live in poverty and 9.3 million are food insecure.
Now, one year on from the earthquake, many who once lived in modest concrete homes are still living in tents. The devastating reality is that many of these children, who make up most of the camp's residents, know no other reality.
I met Hussain, 34, the sole breadwinner for his family of fourteen; Hussain took in his deceased brother’s wife and children when he was killed in 2017 in the war. After moving multiple times since the war began in search of safety, they had finally found a place to call home in a rented accommodation in Idlib.
“When the earthquake struck, our home was severely damaged, and the only option was for us to live in a tent, which has been extremely difficult. I just kept thinking how I will support my family. And then the intervention from Muslim Hands to provide me with a honey production kit came at just the right time,” he said.
International response to the Turkey-Syria earthquake has disproportionately overlooked Syrian suffering and people's need for aide due to the Assad regime’s hold over affected areas. This defies the principles of humanitarianism, argues @emadmoussa 👇 https://t.co/0YiqIPxmaH— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) February 9, 2023
“Faith is all we have to keep us going and I am once again hopeful for the future. I now have the possibility to have my own business and provide for my family. I hope to one day build my own home, near a school so the children can get an education, have a brighter future and be safe.”
NGOs like Muslim Hands are a lifeline to the millions of displaced Syrians, for whom humanitarian assistance and interventions like these can mean the difference between life and death.
Syria has the largest displacement crisis of our time, with more than 15 million people displaced from their homes. Life in these camps is extremely difficult, especially for children, but for many staying put is the best option, due to regular aid provided by charities like Muslim Hands. Living elsewhere means vulnerability – and uncertainty as to where the next meal would be coming from.
Faiza, the sole carer for her husband, knows too well the feeling of vulnerability. “It feels like I have lost everything twice,” Faiza said as her husband Ali shivered in the tent they were now living in.
Ali became paralysed after being trapped under the heavy rubble of the earthquake. With all that life had thrown at him, Ali was looking beyond his years and unable to speak, his eyes full of sadness.
“During the war we lost our family, our children, and now we have lost our home in the earthquake.”
Another family headed by Hassan echoed the same sentiment having lost everything in the war and earthquake. “I care for my grandchildren as they lost their father, my son, and after the earthquake I was homeless. Muslim Hands took me off the streets and gave me all this which I am grateful for.”
Faiza, Ali and Hassan are just a few of the thousands of beneficiaries Muslim Hands is supporting from the various projects we have running in northern Syria. The Muslim Hands bread bakery in Afrin provides 100,000 loaves of bread to 50,000 beneficiaries every day.
Our current winter appeal, providing £500,000 worth of emergency aid across nine locations worldwide, will ensure that beneficiaries in Syria will receive food parcels, blankets and fuel to keep them warm during these tough winter months.
As I took part in distributing the bread and winter essentials, the Syrian people were so thankful and full of prayers for the donors, without whom none of our support would be possible.
Maysar, a mother of six, was desperate to provide for her family after her husband was severely injured after the earthquake. Our donors rallied in just 48 hours to raise enough funds to provide Maysar the equipment she needed to start her own sewing business, a passion she had prior to the war. Maysar’s tears of joy not only showed her sincere gratitude but also the difference this would make to her family’s future.
And it also instilled hope within me too – that by working together we can make positive change. As a father myself, I know that all a parent wants to do is give the best to your family, and when circumstances are difficult, can be easy to lose hope.
But I hope that with charities like Muslim Hands, who are committed to long-term intervention and support, and people’s good will, the people of Syria will know that despite their continuous hardship we have not forgotten them.
Imran Ahmed is the Major Giving Manager and a member of the Emergency Response team at Muslim Hands. In his ten years with the organisation, he has travelled to visit Muslim Hands projects in Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Tanzania, China, Austria, France and Indonesia.
Have questions or comments? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author's employer.