Syrian government requests European humanitarian assistance two days after devastating earthquake

Access to the comments Comments
By Alice Tidey
Mourners bury family members who died in a devastating earthquake that rocked Syria and Turkey at a cemetery in the town of Jinderis, Aleppo province, Syria, Feb. 7, 2023.
Mourners bury family members who died in a devastating earthquake that rocked Syria and Turkey at a cemetery in the town of Jinderis, Aleppo province, Syria, Feb. 7, 2023.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed

The Syrian government has requested European humanitarian assistance to help its search and rescue efforts two days after a devastating earthquake, the European Commission confirmed on Wednesday.

"Earlier today, this morning, we also received a request from the government of Syria to the EU for assistance through the Civil Protection Mechanism. We shared this request with EU member states and we are encouraging them to contribute the in-kind assistance as requested," Commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarčič told reporters.

The request from the Syrian government "contains a long list of items", he added such as assistance in their search and rescue efforts, medical items including medicines, as well as food products and "typical aid emergency items".

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which struck shortly after 04:00 AM local time on Monday near the western Turkish city of Gaziantep, has so far claimed the lives of over 9,500 people in Turkey and Syria.

Turkey, which is part of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, requested assistance on Monday morning with aid from European partners, including multiple search and rescue teams, arriving in the country on the same day.

Any country worldwide can activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism if their national emergency services are overwhelmed by a disaster but the requests have traditionally been made by governments.

Opposition-held territories issue

However, the earthquake struck an area in Syria that has territories controlled by the government and some held by various groups opposing Damascus. The Syrian death toll currently stands at over 2,600 people: 1,200 in government-controlled areas and 1,400 in opposition-held territories.

The EU Commission initially said it was in touch with humanitarian organisations on the ground and that it was looking at potentially increasing its financial assistance to these NGOs in response.

Lenarčič confirmed this on Wednesday, telling reporters that the Commission is also "working on topping up our financial support, some of that was already approved for affected areas in Syria through our humanitarian partners."

A rescue worker digs to reach a boy under the rubble of a collapsed building in the rebel-held town of Jindayris on February 8, 2023, two days after a deadly earthquake.BAKR ALKASEM / AFP

He also "categorically" rejected accusations that EU sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime are hindering humanitarian efforts.

These sanctions — first imposed in 2011 in response to the brutal repression by the regime of Bashar al-Assad of pro-democracy protests as part of the wider Arab Spring — target the regime and its supporters as well as sectors of the economy they rely on.

These include a ban on the export of equipment that might be used for internal repression and technology intended for the monitoring and interception of the Internet and telephone communications, a ban on the import of Syrian oil and petroleum products, and a ban on the trade of goods belonging to Syria's cultural heritage and a prohibition to export luxury goods to Syria. EU individuals an entities are also banned from trading in public bonds to or from the Syrian government.

Assistance on its way 'very soon'

Lenarčič said that it is important to ensure the assistance sent to Syria by EU member states "goes to people who need it, that it is not diverted."

"This is something that we will watch," he said. 

As of Wednesday, 23 countries participating in the EU Civil Protection mechanism have offered a total of 36 search and medical teams to Turkey, comprising a total of 1,500 personnel and 100 rescue dogs. 

Turkey put in another request on Wednesday morning, the Commissioner said, for shelter items including winterised tents, blankets, and heaters. 

"This request is also now being acted upon. The offers are coming. And this assistance will also be on its way very soon," he added.