Accessibility links

Breaking News

Millions of Quake Survivors Still Living in Tents as Turkey Election Looms

Millions of Quake Survivors Still Living in Tents as Turkey Election Looms
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:53 0:00

More than two months after the February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria that killed more than 50,000 people, millions of survivors are still living in tents with little hope of returning home anytime soon.

As Turkey’s presidential election campaigns enter full swing ahead of the May 14 first-round vote, some survivors say they feel forgotten.

Yunus Emre Yildiz, his wife and their three children live in a tent on stony waste ground in their hometown of Hassa in Hatay province. On one side is a busy highway; on the other, the damaged apartment block where the family used to live.

The family has spent two months living outside in Turkey’s bitter late winter.

"Living in a tent is not like living in a house," Yildiz told VOA. "There are difficulties living in a tent. There are stones on the ground, it is cold, it rains."

Cracks are visible on the exterior of Yildiz’s home. But he said the damage isn’t sufficient to qualify his family for a place in a better-equipped camp for earthquake survivors, with improved accommodations, sanitation and social care.

Yildiz said fear keeps them from returning home.

"The night of the earthquake, the two children were in their room. The baby was in our room. I could not reach the two children to rescue them from their room because the tremors were pushing me away," he said.

"They say that we should go and live in our house. But how can we do that? It is not easy for us," Yildiz said.

Since the earthquake, the region has been hit by aftershocks. Many families say the children fear returning home.

"There is no serious damage to our house. We sometimes go back, but we are scared when we go home," said Ozer Guner, whose family occupies a nearby tent.

"We adults are somehow OK, but mentally, the children are suffering very badly. We cannot do anything about that. There are no social programs here for that. If they had entertainment activities or any social activity program, the children could handle it more easily," Guner told VOA.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey says over 2 million earthquake survivors are living in tents. Some local media put the figure at over 2.5 million.

The Turkish government, along with the United Nations and other aid agencies, are still constructing more permanent camps. Ankara says it has given accommodation to over 2.1 million homeless survivors at 500 sites.

Johan Karlsson, managing director of the Better Shelter aid agency, which is providing 5,000 shelters in Turkey and Syria, said it is vital that survivors are given more permanent accommodations.

"People are sleeping in their cars, on the streets and under temporary rubble shelters. So, there is an acute need just to have a place to stay. But then you also have the entire psychosocial comfort of a shelter or home, somewhere where you can sort of close the door from the world outside," Karlsson told The Associated Press.

Turkey is due to hold presidential elections beginning May 14. Some of the survivors say they feel forgotten.

"As you can see on TV, on the streets, in coffee houses, all they talk about is politics," said Mustafa Ketti, whose family is living in a tent on the roadside in Hassa. "They forgot everything. They forgot the earthquake. They forgot those killed. They forgot the children’s schools. They forgot about education. They forgot about the health system. They just started to talk about politics," he told VOA.

In its election manifesto, the ruling AK Party under incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to build 650,000 new homes in the region, with almost half completed within the next year.

Meanwhile, critics blame Erdogan’s government for lax building regulations, which they say contributed to the widespread destruction.

Memet Aksakal contributed to this report.