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Deadly quake: Refugee camp conditions hamper rescue efforts in Syria

Jerusalem24 – Hala Zuhairy and Nadeen Alshaer – Early Monday morning, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria, the strongest quake in the region since 1939. Tremors were felt in neighboring Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Palestine, and Israel. A second quake, which recorded a magnitude of 7.5, struck just nine hours later.

Tremors from the magnitude 7.5 earthquake were recorded as far as Iraq.

The death toll currently stands at 11,200, while tens of thousands more have been injured. Thousands of buildings have been damaged or completely destroyed.

Faed Mustafa, Palestine’s Ambassador to Turkey, confirmed today that so far 64 Palestinians, the majority of them refugees in Syria, have been killed in the earthquake.

“They can’t get through the alleys”

Syria hosts a total of around 500,000 Palestinian refugees across 14 refugee camps, three of which are located within the impact zone of the devastating earthquake: Al-Ramel refugee camp in Lattakia, and Al-Nairab and Handarat refugee camps in Aleppo.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said that the refugee camps of Al-Nairab and Handarat in Aleppo are the most affected.

Political advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, ambassador Dr. Ahmad Al-Deek, tells Jerusalem24’s sister station 24FM, that the damage inflicted on the camps is considerable.

“The rescue teams are facing difficulties due to the horrible weather conditions,” says Al-Deek, “and due to the nature of the refugee camps and its narrow streets and alleys.

In addition to the subpar construction which has left the camps vulnerable in the first place, rescue teams are unable to maneuver the required heavy machinery via the camp’s narrow alleyways, hampering rescue efforts and wasting critical time. Al-Deek says”basic tools” are being employed instead, “which costs extra time.”

Al-Deek says the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) crews in Syria “responded quickly”, and took part in the rescue operations across the camps.

The Palestinian embassy in Damascus also sent a team to observe the operations.

Dr. Attef Ibrahim, the Director General of the PRCS in Syria announced that heated tents had been set up in the proximity of the Al-Nairab refugee camp to shelter residents from the camp and neighboring villages.

A number of PRCS ambulances with trained medical crews have also been dispatched to other refugee camps, and PRCS hospitals in Syria and Lebanon are ready to receive injuries, and provide the medical help needed.

On Wednesday, rescue teams consisting of civil defense and medical crews will arrive in Syria and Turkey to participate in the rescue and search operations.

Heavy machinery struggles to reach the scene of a collapsed building due to narrow alleyways in the camp. [Source: 24FM]

Calls to UNRWA

Committee 302 for the Defense of Refugee Rights issued a press statement it was following up on the repercussions of the devastating earthquake “with great concern and attention”.

Committee 302 called on UNRWA to urgently intervene in providing needed medicines, food, clothing, and fuel to the refugees affected by the earthquake, including 6,500 in Lattakia, 8,000 in Handarat, and 18,000 in Al-Nairab.

UNRWA announced its field crews are evaluating the situation in both Aleppo and Lattakia.

The UN announced $25 million in humanitarian aid Tuesday for Turkey and Syria.

UNRWA has urgently appealed for $2.7 million to cover the needs of some 57,000 Palestinian refugees who have also been affected.

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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