SYRIA Bishop Bizzeti: Antioch is a post-atomic city. Earthquake and migrants, common responses

The Vicar of Anatolia visited what can be considered the center most affected by the earthquake on February 6. The first cases of cholera begin to appear and the risk of “sanitary infections” is very high. People flee and at the same time the attention of public opinion diminishes. Earthquake and death of migrants at sea, as happened yesterday off the coast of Italy, are related problems and an “overview” is essential.

Milan () – In Antioch “I saw a post-atomic war scenario: a ghostly, spectral city, where for kilometers there is not a single house that can be repaired” and a large part of it has been “buried by millions of tons of rubble”. The dramatic testimony of Msgr. Paolo Bizzeti, Vicar of Anatolia, who in recent days visited Antakya, “the center most affected” by the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria on February 6. In other times it was a an active metropolis, brimming with people and businesses, and today “it is a city of ghosts, patrolled by the military, where the first cases of cholera begin to appear” and the danger of “sanitary infections” is increasing.

This weekend the earth trembled again with strong intensity. According to the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Center, the earthquake occurred 10 km deep in the Obruk Bor area, in Nigde, in the south-central part of the country. More than 9,000 aftershocks have been warned since February 6, some of them of enormous magnitude, which caused more victims. The total balance exceeds 50,000 deaths, of which 44,218 in Turkey and almost 6,000 in Syria, where the count is even more uncertain because some areas are controlled by the government and others in the hands of rebel and jihadist groups. There are about 530,000 displaced people, including 10,000 in Syria, while Ankara has arrested 184 people accused of negligence in the construction of collapsed buildings.

Determining a plausible death toll is “difficult, almost impossible,” observes the vicar of Anatolia, among other things because there were more than 150,000 Syrian refugees in the area and no one “reports the disappearance of these people.” “The proportions of the tragedy – he continues – still cannot be calculated”, although the interest of the international media and public opinion is already beginning to fade. On the contrary, he warns, “we need to keep our attention high” and “continue to bear witness to the situation in Antioquia with stories, photos and videos, to show the drama that is taking place.” People flee, thousands of people try to escape by all means – he adds – and it will end up becoming a ghost town “.

To give an idea of ​​the devastation, Msgr. Bizzeti recounts that he has walked one of the streets of the old town and “in six kilometers not a single house was left standing”. “It is an apocalypse of such dimensions -he adds- that my blood froze. In Iskenderun I had already grasped the situation, the sight of the city did not surprise me, but in Antioch it is 10 times worse, much more difficult to understand and to count if one does not see it with their own eyes”. And “those who could do it , they left”.

In this emergency situation, the local Church and Caritas, in collaboration with the local authorities, continue to provide assistance and distribute up to 1,000 meals per day. The storage and distribution center is located in Iskenderun, which, although affected, does not present an apocalyptic panorama like that of Antakya. “We are working very well – observes the Vicar of Anatolia – and we have already begun to study the first reconstruction projects. On the contrary, in Antakya everything has collapsed [sólo se salvaron la cueva de San Pedro y el museo, entre los edificios religiosos y culturales, ndr] and those who were not buried under the rubble, left”. With a view to reconstruction, an important conference of donor countries that want to help Turkey will be held in Brussels in March. “In this sense – he stresses – it is essential that there are precise and clear agreements, so that aid to the victims of the earthquake does not become a simple remittance of money, as happened with the refugees”, whose umpteenth tragedy occurred yesterday off the Italian coast.

The ship had set sail from Turkey and capsized off the southern coast of Calabria, killing at least 59 people, including nine boys and five girls. “The causes of flight can be various: the earthquake, the war, poverty, the impossibility of having a future – concludes Monsignor Bizzeti – who for years has personally followed the issue of migration from Turkey – but the result is always the same. People flee from places where it is impossible to live. On the other hand, you cannot be generous and supportive at the moment of the tragedy and then not face the consequences of it. At the international level, you cannot isolate a problem of another, there has to be an overall vision to address all open issues, otherwise it becomes a schizophrenic way of thinking and acting”.


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