Al-Jezeera reported this an hour ago (February 19). That’s where the death count in southeast Turkey and the northwest corner of Syria stands today. Two weeks ago, a 7.8 earthquake devastated the area, opening cracks in the earth, taking down buildings and crushing everything below. It looks like 9/11 x 10 with rescue and recovery made even more difficult by a civil war, lack of access, blocked border crossings, snow, and freezing temperatures. Every day the death toll increases, but rescue teams are still uncovering live victims from beneath the piles of rebar and blocks of concrete left in the quake’s aftermath. One million living in UN-supplied tents on the Turkish side. Aid blocked to the Syrian side.
In 2017 I wrote about Mohammed “Med” Malandi (https://www.jackbernardstravels.com/ordinary-people/) a young Syrian refugee I met in Berlin. I told the story of his harrowing escape and journey across Turkey, to Greece, then on to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and finally to Germany. Med was one of the lucky few. In 2018 he was granted asylum and the right to work in Germany. His brother, Hussein, landed in the Netherlands, but their parents stayed in Idlib – one of the few remaining rebel-controlled, Assad-fighting areas in the northwest corner of Syria.
This is the picture I posted of Idlib in 2017 as Assad and Putin were attacking the last remaining rebel enclaves. Amazingly, the rebels have been able to hang on with ragtag support from the FSA (Free Syrian Army) and limited military and humanitarian efforts by Turkey, the US, and European allies. This is where Med’s family is still living.
I wrote more of his miraculous story in 2020 (https://www.jackbernardstravels.com/is-your-luck-holding/). Today I’m writing about him again.
This is an aerial photo taken somewhere in the earthquake zone on Tuesday:
When I checked in with a close friend in Berlin yesterday, she told me Med’s family is OK despite the earthquake and a bitter cold snowy winter, but “the many homeless people and destruction around them is an enormous challenge….there had been constant bombing during the last times from Putin and Assad that threatened their lives also , then the cold, snowy weather now…a complete disaster …and no help yet coming in …all you can do from here is donate- and hope, very hard to stand!
It’s difficult to imagine what “OK” might look like. There were no high-rise buildings left in Idlib for the earthquake to destroy. The Russians and Syrian forces had already destroyed them. Most of the remaining residents are living in basements or temporary shelters.
When I asked about humanitarian aid and organizations to support, Med advised “that all international help goes through Assad’s hands and so you don’t know where it goes at the end. Because of the sanctions the regime is in need for money…nothing goes into region of Idlib…a nightmare for everyone who has to live there…” but for anyone wanting to donate he recommends www.whitehelmets.org and this other organization, https://instagram.com/molhamteam?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
Med is a political cartoonist. This is his self-portrait. It haunts me. I know he’s safe now, but his family is not and there are literally millions of families like Med’s who are not safe–victims of the earthquake, victims of Putin’s murderous war in Ukraine, people without homes or countries to call their own. It calls for compassion, something that seems in short supply in our chaotic world. This is a call to action. I ask you to be your best self and lend a hand if you can. There are many options. I’m giving to White Helmets. They’re already onsite, but UNHCR, Save the Children, Red Cross, Red Crescent and World Central Kitchen are reliable alternatives. Think how you would feel if you were huddling under a thin blanket in Idlib. That’s how I’m thinking about it.