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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
6 February 2024

Northwest Syria: supporting families still reeling from the earthquakes’ devastation

Northwest Syria is still reeling from the devastation brought on by the earthquakes that hit Türkiye’s southeastern provinces and northern Syria in February 2023, killing at least 60,000 people and injuring many more across both countries.

In addition to reaching hundreds of affected communities in both Syria and Türkiye with immediate relief in the aftermath of the earthquakes, GOAL delivered cash-based assistance to more than 210,000 people in Northwest Syria between February and September 2023 to help them cope with the longer-term impact of the disaster.

This was possible thanks to the continued funding by the European Union.

Rafiq with his daughters Leila (10) and Yasmine (7) in front of the tent. In the background some flats.
Rafiq with his daughters Leila (10) and Yasmine (7) in front of the tent they had to move into after the earthquakes. Eskat Village, Idleb, Syria. January 2024.
© GOAL Syria

“Yes, we lost everything overnight, as they say,” says Rafiq*. “Our building suffered structural damage, and the walls of our flat got cracked. Suddenly we found ourselves under heavy rain, on the street. Everything around us was collapsing, with rubble shooting from all directions, as if it were doomsday. How we got out, we do not know,” he continues.

Rafiq was among the hundreds of thousands of people in Northwest Syria who narrowly survived the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the region in the early morning of 6 February 2023 and the 7.6-magnitude aftershocks that followed hours later.

Having left his hometown 10 years ago due to the conflict, the 58-year-old father of eight was no stranger to being woken up at night by the ground beneath him shaking. Yet the catastrophe brought on by the earthquakes was unlike anything he had been through before.

“The horror we experienced that day was different from all of the fears we had endured due to the war and the constant shelling,” Rafiq says.

It was only when the tremors subsided that Rafiq and his family understood the true impact of the disaster, finding themselves surrounded by news of widespread death and destruction across Idleb and Northern Aleppo. They would soon realise that the damage the earthquakes caused their community and region would rival the impact of Syria’s conflict, now in its 13th year.

“We thought displacement was the most difficult challenge of our lifetime. But February’s earthquakes caught us off guard, bringing on a renewed wave of suffering,” continues Rafiq.

“The period following the earthquake was the toughest. Everyone was distraught, wandering the streets in a state of shock, and in sadness for the loss of their loved ones and homes. We spent days and nights among the olive trees […] there was little food available, no clean water to drink, and no shelter,” Rafiq adds.

Rafiq and his daughter Leila seated in their old living room.
Rafiq and his daughter Leila are picking up household items and toys from their damaged flat. Eskat Village, Idleb, Syria. January 2024.
© GOAL Syria

Rafiq, his wife and their children have since taken refuge in a tent they installed near the building where they used to live. Despite being in constant fear of another earthquake, kept alert by continuing aftershocks, they still have to go into their damaged flat to access household items. “We’re like hurried guests in our own home, going in and out just to borrow things,” Rafiq explains.

Rafiq’s family feels they must hold on to everything they have that survived the earthquake, having no means left to meet their basic needs, as the injuries Rafiq suffered in the disaster kept him from being able to find a job. “The disaster’s psychological effects still linger on, its horror embedded in the hearts and minds of myself, my wife, and my children – not to mention the impact it had on our very life,” Rafiq continues.

With support from the European Union, GOAL has reached more than 43,000 earthquake-affected families in Northwest Syria with cash-based assistance between February and September 2023, helping them purchase the essential supplies they needed most. Households like Rafiq’s, who had to move into tents because of the damage their homes suffered in the earthquakes or who lost access to income opportunities have been prioritised for longer-term support.

Rafiq is hanging clothes to dry in his family’s damaged flat.
Rafiq is hanging clothes to dry in his family’s damaged flat, made uninhabitable after the earthquakes. Eskat Village, Idleb, Syria. January 2024.
© GOAL Syria

“As we witness the enduring struggle of communities affected by last year’s earthquakes, it is evident that while much work has been done, much more remains to be accomplished. We are committed to supporting those in need and navigating the path to recovery alongside them.” says Luigi Pandolfi, Head of EU Humanitarian Aid Syria Office.

Amid the ongoing impact of the earthquakes, accessing humanitarian assistance has been Rafiq’s family’s only way of coping with the challenges of living in displacement. “The aid provided by GOAL to earthquake survivors has helped us greatly,” Rafiq explains. He adds, “This cash enabled me to buy the medicines my wife and I need as well as make up for the shortfall in meeting our everyday expenses.”

Yet Rafiq cannot help but worry about the uncertain future facing his family and wonder how it will be possible to rebuild his community.

In solidarity with the communities of Northwest Syria, in 2023, the European Union allocated close to €15 million to GOAL. This funding supports the most vulnerable individuals affected by the earthquakes and has been fundamental in providing essential relief efforts, including shelter, food assistance, and healthcare.

 * The names of the individuals featured in this story were changed in order to protect their identities.

  • Story by GOAL Syria

    Publication date: 06/02/2024