PRESS RELEASE / February 9, 2023

International disaster aid not reaching earthquake victims inside Syria 

Four days after a catastrophic earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, international humanitarian disaster response aid is still failing to reach victims who remain in desperate need in northwest Syria.

The White Helmets rescue teams are on the ground battling to search for survivors beneath collapsed buildings but the time to save lives is rapidly running out. 

Mounir Mustafa, a White Helmets volunteer said there is currently no clear international UN emergency earthquake response plan to ensure enough aid reaches northern Syria:  

“Every minute that passes is crucial. Our teams have been working non-stop around the clock to save lives from under the rubble but we have been completely abandoned by the international community. We simply cannot understand how the world has left us alone to face the worst disaster we have encountered – it is inhumane. There is currently no clear international earthquake response plan from the UN and UN leadership have not offered us assistance. We desperately need fuel supplies, specialist search and rescue teams as well as temporary housing and humanitarian supplies. The cross-border aid that was delivered this morning is part of the routine aid deliveries, there has been no announcement of a clear plan for emergency UN earthquake related cross-border response. Why are UN emergency funds not being used to help save lives in northwest Syria?” 

Routine cross-border aid to northern Syria was halted after earthquake damage in the area left roads inaccessible. The first UN aid trucks finally passed through Bab al-Hawa crossing this morning carrying tents, shelter materials and basic relief items but did not include international rescue teams or the heavy machinery needed to assist with rescue efforts. 

Laila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign said: 

“Words of solidarity and pledging funds alone will not help to dig out survivors who have spent days under rubble and dust clinging on to life in the hope of being rescued. The international community’s failure to ensure humanitarian assistance has been able to reach people in northern Syria is shameful. Within hours of the earthquake world governments had dispatched multiple international rescue teams to Turkey but just one Egyptian team has reached northwest Syria – once again civilians have been abandoned. The international community must do more to ensure that all Syrian borders are open for humanitarian assistance. Right now, local Syrian humanitarian responders are leading the humanitarian response in the toughest of conditions – they are on the ground and able to help survivors today. We urge people around the world who want to help people inside Syria to support local humanitarian efforts as the quickest most effective way for help to reach them.”  

People in northwest Syria were already facing a grave humanitarian crisis even before the earthquake, made worse by Russian and Syrian regime restrictions on aid access. In recent years Russia has repeatedly used its veto at the UN Security Council to reduce the number of border crossings authorized to deliver UN aid to northwest Syria from four in 2014 to just one crossing Bab al-Hawa in 2020. International aid agencies require permission from the Syrian regime to deliver aid across the border from regime-held areas and their requests for access are being ignored. This has left civilians in the northwest completely isolated at a time when they are trying to cope with one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the region in decades.

Local activists gathered at Bab al-Hawa on Wednesday evening in protest at the lack of international aid reaching inside Syria. Officials at Bab al-Hawa said that although they had received more than 300 bodies of Syrians killed in Turkey being transported back to Syria – not a single rescue team or delivery of humanitarian aid passed through until Thursday morning. 

Oubaida Dandoush, a medical worker in northern Syria said: “We call on all members of the international community, Arab countries, international organizations to help us – we need urgent support. There are still hundreds of people trapped under the rubble and we are not able to reach them because of lack of resources. We need equipment quickly – we need urgent medical and humanitarian support. Many medications and medical supplies have run out in hospitals due to the earthquake.” 

Aziz Asmar, a Syrian artist said: “We want to deliver a message to the UN and international aid agencies, we want to tell the world about the situation in northwest Syria in the aftermath of the earthquake. We want to tell all countries offering assistance to the Assad regime that Bab al-Hawa crossing is operational, they can bring us equipment to dig out victims. Giving aid to the Assad regime will deprive people who are in need of access to this aid. They must step up efforts to get more cross-border aid to reach Syria. Many people are still under the rubble – any delays will lead to more victims.” 

Salwa Abdulrahman, a local journalist from northwest Syria said: “Bab al-Hawa is a lifeline for millions of people in northwest Syria – and even more so after the earthquake. We need urgent help – people have been calling us from under the rubble and we can’t reach them. We need more than one crossing to be open to be able to cope with this disaster. Some towns have been completely destroyed. We need medical assistance, tents, winter clothing – children are sleeping in the freezing cold. And we need equipment to help clear the rubble. People let us down during the bombing but we are asking people to appeal to their humanity to help rescue survivors trapped.”

For more information or to arrange media interviews with activists and first responders on the ground please contact: [email protected]