World News

Earthquake Shatters Rebuilt Lives of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

First, Syria’s civil war drove Hind Qayduha from her home in the city of Aleppo. Then, conflict and joblessness forced her family to flee two more times. Two years ago, she came to southern Turkey, thinking she had finally found safety and stability.

But when a powerful earthquake struck a week ago, it destroyed their apartment in the hard-hit Turkish city of Antakya and the family was displaced again. They sought safety nearby, braced against the side of the mountain around a medieval monastery and exposed to a cold rain — like many other survivors, they were too shaken to stay under any roof.

Two days later, they were living on the floor of an unfinished carwash in Antakya.

“This is my room for me, my husband and three kids,” she said, laughing as she outlined with her hands a small circle on the black-and-white patterned blanket, a meager cushion atop the gravel floor. She pointed to another part of the same blanket: “And there’s my mother’s room.”

She said other relatives who had been living near her were still buried in the rubble of their homes.

The civil war displaced more than half of Syria’s 21 million people, and nearly four million of them ended up as refugees in Turkey. Many lived in the swath of territory most heavily affected by the earthquake, which killed more than 29,000 people in southern Turkey and more than 3,500 across the border in northwestern Syria — tolls that keep steadily rising.

Turkish residents of Antakya have leveled unsubstantiated accusations at the Syrians of looting or grabbing jewelry off corpses.

Tulin Kuseyri, a 62-year-old Turkish woman, stood by the Orontes River in Antakya on Thursday, watching searchers remove a body from an apartment building. Near her lay the body of someone she had known, wrapped in a pink blanket — one of many relatives and friends she said she had lost in the earthquake, along with her family’s cotton factory and her home.

“I don’t want Syrian immigrants in Antakya anymore,” she said, barely able to control herself. “Instead of paying for Syrian people from our taxes, we want them to take care of Turks.”

Yet the relationship between Turks and Syrian refugees is far more complex than fear, blame and resentment. In Antakya and other affected areas, some Syrian families said Turkish ones had shared whatever shelter and food they had with them.

Other Syrian refugees said that the government-run rescue and relief response had not discriminated among the needy.

“Thank God, Turkey isn’t distinguishing between us,” said Jamal Ezzal Deen, a 30-year-old Syrian, as he held his 2-year-old daughter, Fatima. “Even if there is some racism from the people.”

On Thursday at a tent camp erected around Antakya’s soccer stadium, he had watched as a Turkish woman hassled a Turkish army officer, insisting that the aid should only go to the Turks, not the Syrians. The officer told her they wouldn’t discriminate.

Ms. Qayduha said she still had family in Syria, including two sisters in northwestern Idlib Province and an aunt in Aleppo — two of the areas hardest hit by the quake. But she hasn’t been able to connect with them. It’s a constant reminder that Syrians on both sides of the border are united in suffering.

She said this was the second time she had lost her home and all her possessions.

“I don’t own anything except these kids, thank God,” she said in a raspy voice, hoarse from the cold, as she extended her arms toward her 9-year-old daughter.

She and her family were desperate to leave the carwash, which has a large opening that allows in bitterly cold air. They want to find better shelter in the tent camps the Turkish government has been setting up.

But they were spooked by rumors that they wouldn’t be allowed in because they are Syrian, or that roaming groups of armed Turks were looking for Syrians to attack.

Outside a collapsed apartment building in Antakya, a woman in her 50s who said she had come from northwestern Syria to Turkey just days before the earthquake kept a hopeful vigil for days. She did not want to give her name out of concern for her safety.

The building was where her daughter, nine months pregnant, had been living with her family and the mother had come to Turkey to welcome her second grandchild.

“Can a mother leave her daughter’s side?” she said on Friday, wiping away tears welling in her eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut, seemingly willing them to stop. “Everyone here is waiting for someone underneath.”

Wrapped in a navy scarf, she kept an eye on a handful of rescuers who were walking along the upturned edges of the building’s balconies, occasionally calling out into the depths of the destroyed building and listening closely for any response, however faint.

When asked if any voices had been heard so far, she began to cry again.

“It’s been 100 hours.”

Nearby, a playground was strung up with sheets and blankets, turned into a rest area for rescue workers. A thin foam mattress stretched across the yellow slide, a makeshift bed.

On Saturday, the mother finally got the grim news. Rescuers had found her daughter’s body and that of her 3-year-old son in the middle of the night. They buried them next to each other.

The mother said she had come to Turkey expecting to welcome another grandchild. Instead, she will return to Syria, having buried the daughter who was her best friend.

Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

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