Expats in Turkey urge those at home to send money as UK begins relief effort

The UK’s International Search and Rescue Team have begun operations in disaster zone.

Josh Payne
Thursday 09 February 2023 14:14 GMT
A collapsed building in Sanliurfa, Turkey, after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake (PA)
A collapsed building in Sanliurfa, Turkey, after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake (PA) (PA Media)

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Louise Thomas

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Britons in Turkey have urged people back home to send money as volunteers from the UK began rescuing people from the rubble left by the “brutal” earthquake.

Firefighters from across the UK have joined the International Search and Rescue Team (UK-ISAR) to begin rescuing those who became trapped since the 7.8 magnitude quake hit on Monday – as the death toll passed 19,000.

Saleh Saeed, chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), told a press conference millions of people in Turkey and Syria are in “desperate need” of aid.

The Prime Minister said the Government will match £5 million in funds raised through an appeal to help the rescue and relief effort in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Debs Handy, 59, moved to Turkey in 2020 and said she was “galvanising our friends and family in the UK to send us money” so they could go shopping on behalf of those left “sleeping in cars”.

She told the PA news agency: “Every expat has brought a bag of either food, water, blankets, clothing.

“We’re all galvanising our friends and family in the UK to send us money so we can go shopping on their behalf.

“Please give, if you don’t know anyone in Turkey just keep giving in the UK, it will still be needed – but if you know someone in Turkey get the money over here, tell them to go shopping for you.”

More than 70 ISAR-UK volunteers are currently taking part in the rescue effort, and on Thursday, they tweeted to say they had recently managed to rescue two women, aged 60 and 90, from the rubble.

However, smaller search crews have spoken of a “frustrating” delay in flying out to help.

Martin Phillips, who volunteers with Wiltshire-based Serve On, said he was part of a 13-strong team flying out to Turkey from London Stansted airport on Thursday to assist with the rescue effort.

Speaking about the delay, he told PA: “It is frustrating. It’s nobody’s fault as such – the Turkish authorities wanted medium and heavy teams in first.

“So we’ve we’ve had to wait a little while.

“Normally, the light teams get in first and lay the pathway for the bigger teams coming in.

“That’s not how it’s worked this time, but that’s for others to decide whether that was a way forward or whether it was better for light teams to come in.

“We just put in our applications, told people what we can do and we’ve been pushing to get in – now we can.”

The first 7.8-magnitude quake hit the Turkish city of Gaziantep in the early hours of Monday, reducing thousands of homes and buildings across the south of the country and northern Syria to rubble as people slept.

A series of aftershocks has left tens of thousands injured and survivors are feared trapped under thousands of collapsed buildings.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverley said the department’s Crisis Response Hub is working to support at least 35 Britons caught up in the disaster – including three who were missing.

When asked how he would encourage Brits who might be struggling with the cost of living to donate to the appeal, Mr Saeed emphasised the “brutal” impact of the earthquake on people’s lives.

He said: “We have got to position ourselves in the situation these families find themselves in.

“Their lives have been brutally turned upside down, they’ve lost family members, they’ve potentially lost their jobs, schools have been destroyed, hospitals have been destroyed.

“They have lost all their possessions and they are now reliant on the support of other people so whatever we can give, however small it is, is going to go a long way to helping those families.

“I am sure if we found ourselves in their position we would hope and expect that others around the globe would want to reach out to help us.”

Relief efforts have been hampered by damaged infrastructure, freezing winter temperatures and limited medical facilities.

Serve On is part of the European Association of Civil Protection Voluntary Teams, and Mr Phillips said fellow crews from across Europe had told them it was “chaos”.

He said: “They’re feeding back to us a picture of what it’s like – it sounds like the usual chaos.

“You can’t have a disaster on this scale without everything falling over and being in a mess and it takes time to unravel that.”

The Syrian volunteer organisation, White Helmets, said “time is running out” as “hundreds of families” remained trapped under the rubble.

In a tweet, they said: “We are at a critical point. Time is running out, hundreds of families are still stuck under the rubble.

“Every second means saving a life.”

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