Now is the time to stand up for the people of Türkiye and Syria living in the region of the deadly earthquake disaster, said the UN chief on Thursday, and show them “the same kind of support and generosity” which they have displayed in recent years, aiding millions of refugees and displaced people fleeing conflict.
In a heartfelt appeal based on his years of visiting the devastated area, as Secretary-General and previously as head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Antonio Guterres said that what had been a “centre of solidarity is now an epicentre of suffering.”
“People are facing nightmare on top of nightmare. The earthquake struck as the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria was already worsening, with needs at their highest level since the conflict began.”
He said the UN had done its best to respond speedily to what is “one of the biggest natural disasters in our times.”
The first UN convoy crossed into northwest Syria on Thursday through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, including six trucks carrying shelter and other desperately needed relief supplies, and although more help is on the way, he assured, “much more, much more, is needed.”
The world is sadly aware of the rising death toll, now beyond 18,000 according to latest reports, and that the full extent of the damage is still unknown, said the UN chief.
“Türkiye is home to the largest number of refugees in the world and has shown unparalleled generosity to its Syrian neighbors. Indeed, up to 3.6 million Syrians have lived in Türkiye for more than a decade. Many of them are now victims of the earthquake.”
Similarly he said he had been to Aleppo in the past and met Syrians who warmly welcomed Iraqis fleeing war.
“On my visits, I was deeply moved by the solidarity of people who opened their homes and their hearts. Now those homes have been destroyed and those hearts are breaking”, he told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York.
He said he was sending UN relief chief Martin Griffiths to the area this weekend to fully assess the disaster, but there are two overarching priorities he said.
“First, access. Roads are damaged. People are dying. Now is the time to explore all possible avenues to get aid and personnel into all affected areas. We must put people first.
“Second, resources. The humanitarian response – the Syria humanitarian fund and the Syria cross-border fund – need an urgent injection of support. They are the best options to enable the UN and its humanitarian partners to rapidly respond to people in need.”
Already, $25 million has been released from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to jumpstart the response, and by early next week, a Flash Appeal for donor support will be issued, for those affected by the earthquake in Syria.
He said UN agencies – along with international and national NGOs in Syria – are assessing their initial funding requirements for the next three months.
“These resources will be used by the humanitarian community for critical aid: shelter, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene, education, protection and psychosocial support services.”
He said the UN was “ready to support the Turkish government’s response in any way we can.
“In the face of this epic disaster, I strongly appeal to the international community to show the people of Türkiye and Syria the same kind of support and generosity with which they received, protected and assisted millions of refugees and displaced people.
“Now is the hour to stand up for the people of Türkiye and Syria.”