Türkiye-Syria earthquake response: relief efforts being hampered by politics

Published on 10 February 2023

As the death toll rises day by day, the response to this week’s devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria is being hindered by politics, according to IDS researchers specialising in the region.

“The earthquake has underscored how so-called ‘political complexity’ and access restraints prevent humanitarian action,” said Philip Proudfoot, Research Fellow in the Power & Popular Politics cluster at IDS.

Before the earthquake, the Syrian war was fast becoming a forgotten conflict. In recent years, the enduring suffering endured by Syrian people had disappeared from western media headlines until this week.

For years, aid to NW Syria has been delivered, by UN mandate, through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from southern Türkiye. As a result of the earthquake the crossing was blocked, with the first trucks only getting through three days after the disaster first hit – a major delay in humanitarian response terms. Alternative routes via Damascus are considered “politically complex”, said Proudfoot, given that President Bashar al-Assad is in conflict with groups inside northwest Syria and is also opposed by multiple Western states. Al-Assad does not permit any other route for aid delivery to northwest Syria.

“But these facts contradict humanitarian ethics, which are predicated on the inherent value of human life,” he said. “In a crisis, relief efforts are supposed to be directed by needs – measured to some degree objectively and distributed fairly without any political interference or bias.”

“The result of this situation is that Syrians will die. Some of these deaths are avoidable if international relief workers mobilise and political actors apply direct, consistent, and collective pressure to immediately open all routes for the sake of fundamental humanitarian values.”

In Türkiye, there is a need to focus on both the Turkish survivors but also the estimated hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who fled the war in their home country and were living in the area struck by the earthquake, said Dolf te Lintelo, Research Fellow and Cities cluster lead at IDS.

“As Türkiye’s economy has eroded over the last few years, these refugees have increasingly found themselves scapegoated and in the cross-hairs of xenophobic political discourses, even prior to the earthquake,” he said. The issue of refugees was shaping up to be a key aspect of upcoming elections in the country.

“In cities like Gaziantep, Syrian refugees make up a very substantial part of the population. Many of them have now been displaced once more due to the disaster, while hosting populations themselves too have become displaced, to blur the distinctions between hosts and displaced people.”

“For Syrians, the ability to freely move and find shelter elsewhere in the country is ordinarily constrained by the migration authorities. They require travel permits if they wanted to move to another region, for instance for jobs.  Consequently, they cannot freely move to other cities to find refuge in this crisis.”

“It will be important,” te Lintelo added, “that the effort to rehouse and support victims is inclusive of all residents,” recognising that the scale of the disaster and the current financial crisis in Türkiye makes this very difficult.

Supporting the emergency response

Local NGOs urgently need help to help them mount a rapid and inclusive response. If you are looking for an organisation to donate to, IDS has identified the following organisations within its network, which are all actively fundraising to help them with the emergency response:


Basmeh & Zeitooneh

Ghiras Al-Nahda

Molham Volunteering Team


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MENA Initiative
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