the earthquake, ‘a tragedy for everyone’. The Syrians, ‘discriminated’ in aid

Nabil Antaki, a doctor from Aleppo, criticizes the Western sanctions that determined a “different” response for Syria and Turkey to the emergency. The people “are desperate”, the displaced need a roof. In the early stages there was a lack of machines and equipment that would have saved lives. A “shame” for Europe and the United States.

Aleppo () – “After the first devastating shock, hundreds of thousands of people took refuge in churches, mosques, schools and public gardens because their houses had collapsed or been damaged, or simply out of fear. Three weeks today afterwards, most of the shelters and reception centers are closed”. This counted Nabil Antaki, a Christian doctor specializing in gastroenterology, who, first of all, has been at the forefront of relief efforts for the victims of the war that has bloodied the country for years; then in the fight against the pandemic for the last three years, and that today is facing the drama of the earthquake.

“The people of Aleppo are desperate,” continued the doctor, one of the few who remain in the city despite the conflict and a lay member of the Marist Brothers order. “In the last 12 years they have experienced continuous tragedies one after another: the war, the economic crisis, Covid-19, the cholera epidemic and now the earthquake.”

In the first two weeks they had to struggle to find food, blankets and mattresses in a situation of “absolute emergency”. Now, explains Antaki, “the first objective is to repair the damaged buildings, rebuild those that were destroyed and, above all, guarantee a roof for the thousands of families who lost their homes.” This is an enormous task, given that only in Turkey the damage caused by the earthquake on February 6 amounts to more than 34,000 million euros, according to World Bank calculations, and the number of victims in the two countries reaches 51,000. In the next few hours, the first figures from Syria are expected, where the count is complicated by the fragmentation of the territory.

The knot of aid, and of reconstruction, revolves around international sanctions against Syria. “Even before the earthquake,” explained the Aleppo doctor, “poverty and the economic crisis were a consequence of sanctions, which blocked all investment. 82% of the population lives below the poverty line, according to UN estimates Today we don’t have machinery to dig or rescue teams prepared to search under the rubble and many died because we couldn’t find them and help them.” Now the reconstruction game is open – adding the earthquake to the damage of the war -, but here also “weigh heavily” the punitive measures of the West against Damascus.

There is a lack of basic necessities such as bread, gas, fuel, electricity, which are rationed: for example, 25 liters of gasoline every 20 days, two hours of electricity every 24 hours. “People – continued Antaki – are desperate, so much so that nowadays it is common to hear that it is said that ‘we lived better during the hardest years of the conflict, under bombs and snipers’ and ‘we regret not having emigrated’ in 2015- 2016, when it was easier to leave.” Today there is also “no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel and the only consolation comes from the enormous generosity and solidarity of the Syrians in the diaspora, whose help and support are unique.”

Among those working to bring aid and support are Christian NGOs that provide accommodation, shelter in churches, food, clothing, electricity, beginning with the Blue Marists of Aleppo, who “took care of hundreds of Christian and Muslim families” in the first phase of the emergency. “Now we rent apartments,” she continues, “for those who cannot return to their homes.” In the past there was no denominational discrimination in aid and there is none today, the whole world is experiencing this tragedy, like the previous ones, in a spirit of total solidarity.”

From Aleppo, controlled by the Syrian government, to Idlib, the only province still in the hands of rebel and jihadist groups, passing through Syrian refugees in Turkey (at least 1.7 million in the 11 provinces most affected by the earthquake), the “tragedy is the same for everyone,” the doctor said. What makes the difference, he added, are “the hundreds of planes that arrived in Turkey with aid, while none were sent to Syria for political reasons in the first hours after the drama. This is a source of shame for Europe and the United States.” : the response to people’s suffering should have been separated from political and military questions,” he concluded.


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Written by Editor TLN

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