WASHINGTON, DC – Syria and Türkiye have been shaken with a series of earthquakes. As of today, February 8th, the confirmed death toll is estimated at 11,000; however, this number is expected to rise over the coming days and weeks as several civilians remain unaccounted for amid the rubble. This natural disaster continues to evolve as we speak, with mounting needs for the search and rescue missions.
Northwestern Syria has been particularly devastated, as the region has already experienced major weakening of its infrastructure from years of destruction by the Assad regime and his backers. Millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain in the region, while the impact from these earthquakes continues to expand the depth of displacement within the area. The Assad regime has proven to be incapable of delivering and executing rescue operations and has consistently weaponized and diverted international aid for years before this disaster.
We demand the cross-border mechanism to continue to be the main avenue for aid delivery for the Northwest region. We caution against unilateral aid deployment in other areas of Syria through the Assad regime and its associated entities. Additionally, there has been a proliferation of misinformation concerning the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act and other targeted sanctions in an effort to divert the blame for extreme economic and infrastructure failure from the Assad regime’s decade-long war strategies. The purpose of this misinformation is to skew the narrative surrounding targeted and limited sanctions against Assad and his enablers.
Disaster relief and basic aid humanitarian aid have always been exempt from sanctions. Despite this, aid delivery also needs a high-level monitoring mechanism to ensure it reaches the targeted communities(1). Following Russia’s vetoes of humanitarian aid for Syria at the United Nations Security Council, the Bab al-Hawa border crossing point is the only entry point for international aid deliveries. However, since the earthquake, the crossing has been forcibly shut due to the heavy damage to the roads.
While there are reports of this crossing point being open now, we urge the international community to push for the immediate opening of other potential entry points between Türkiye and Syria to expeditiously reach those who are in dire need of aid and facilitate the distribution of critical search and rescue equipment to the first responders on the ground(2). If this is not feasible, airlift facilitated delivery should be urgently considered. To date and to this time, no U.N. aid has reached the Northwest region since this natural disaster started.
The urgent need for rescue vehicles and personnel is mounting as thousands of victims remain under the rubble. Northwest Syria is in urgent need of heavy lifting and rubble removal equipment for rescue purposes. Some neighborhoods in certain towns have been demolished, including Janderis, Basnia, Atma, Aldana, Harem, Azmarin, among others. While first responder teams such as the White Helmets have been stretched very thin, there are hundreds of local volunteers, including some members of the Syrian National Army, using basic equipment and frequently their bare hands. There continues to be major deficit of rescue tools, and urgent support of such equipment is needed.
There is also an urgent need for basic shelter supplies for the survivors who have lost their homes, as there is a shortage of any such items in the region. Northwest Syria remains in dire need of temporary shelter units and similar structures. We applaud the efforts and pledges of support of many countries; however, time is of essence, and the danger of losing lives due to the lack of rescue tools and shelter is mounting. We cannot delay our action.
The following is a short list of trusted entities who have established track record of aid delivery and are heavily involved in the current relief efforts. This is only to name few. We urge all to provide support to these organizations to ensure that aid reaches the people of Syria and Tükiye as soon as possible.