An investigation should be launched into why the UN and international community’s response was days late, causing more Syrian deaths, and those responsible must be held accountable
Press release: (Download the full report below)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) revealed in its report released today that it has documented the deaths of 6,319 Syrians due to the earthquake that hit northwestern Syria and southern Turkey at around dawn on Monday, August 6, 2023. Of these victims, 2,157 died in areas of Syria not controlled by the Syrian regime, 321 in regime-controlled areas, while 3,841 Syrian refugees died in Turkey. The group stresses that an investigation should be launched into the reason why the UN’s and international community’s response was days late, with this lateness itself leading to more Syrian deaths which could have been prevented by a prompt response, asserting that those responsible must be held accountable.
The 10-page report stresses that the region of northwestern Syria has been worst affected by the magnitude 7.7 earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6, 2023. The report explains that this is due to the severe overpopulation in the region caused by the large waves of internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing there after being forcibly displaced by multiple violations perpetrated against them, overwhelmingly by the Syrian regime. Even more tragic, the report adds, these already traumatized people have had to repeatedly relive the horrors of indiscriminate bombardment by the Syrian regime in the IDP camps where they’re living, even after fleeing their homes and local areas. According to the report, the aforementioned overpopulation resulting from these waves of displacement and the deliberate targeting of infrastructure and vital facilities for years by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally made the effects of the earthquake even more catastrophic and tragic in northwestern Syria than in any other affected areas.
The report sheds light on the challenges and difficulties in the processes of documenting the victims who died due to the earthquake and the late response by the UN and the international community. Among those challenges has been the fact that SNHR’s own field team in Syria, particularly in the areas hit by the earthquake, has been badly affected by the quake, as has SNHR’s team in the Turkish cities hit by the earthquake in the south of the country, with many members losing their homes. These conditions have only intensified the difficulty of continuing our constant documentation processes compared with similar incidents. The massive number of deaths resulting from the earthquake, spanning a vast geographical area, has presented another challenge in the documentation process, in addition to the fact that the earthquake left entire cities, towns and villages, including the towns of Jendeires and Harem in northwest Syria, almost completely destroyed. In this context, the report reflects the bare minimum of events and of the consequent suffering caused by the earthquake to date. In fact, the earthquake death toll is still rising.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of SNHR, says,
“The families of the victims who died in the earthquake have the right to know why the UN and international response was days late, even though the first 24 hours is the most urgent and essential time window in such cases. The UN should launch an internal investigation, while international human rights groups and investigative journalism outlets should shed light on this dark side of the story. The donor states must learn from these disastrous mistakes and build an international impartial coordination platform that could play a crucial central role in relief efforts and in the distribution of international aids in non-regime territories.”
The report documents the death of 6,319 Syrians who, according to the report, died as a result of the earthquake and the late UN and international response between February 6 and February 14, 2023. These deaths are distributed according to the territories where they took place, as follows: 2,157 died in non-regime territories, 321 died in regime territories, and 3,841 Syrian refugees died in Turkey. Providing a graphic summary of these figures , the report provides graphs showing the distribution of the victims in Syria according to their place of death, while categorizing the Syrian victims who died in Turkey according to their Syrian governorate of origin.
The report also examines the response of the main UN rescue and aid agencies, namely the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). All of these agencies, the report notes, completely failed to properly or adequately respond to the humanitarian needs of the earthquake victims in northwestern Syria. The report calls on all of these agencies to identify and explain the reasons for their response being prevented and delayed for vital days, resulting in many more wholly preventable deaths. As the report further notes, SNHR believes there are other, political factors in play that have yet to be revealed which must be investigated to expose the true reason behind this lethally late response, stressing that responding to any earthquake in the first 12-24 hours immediately following it is critically important. The arrival of massively inadequate quantities of aid four days late is simply a shocking sign of shameful indifference and negligence towards the lives of those trapped under the rubble sending a wholly negative message to the families of these innocent victims, that they are simply to be abandoned.
The report also question the UN’s decision not to issue a distress call for the northwestern region of Syria, as it did for the areas under Syrian regime control, which, accordingly, received large quantities of aid, while stressing that the Syrian regime has demonstrated yet again that it is by far the worst offender in terms of the theft of UN aid, with regime insiders and military forces stealing as much as 90 percent of the aid donated.
The report stresses that the UN’s late response, which left the local civil society organizations alone to deal with the overwhelming horrors and effects of the earthquake entirely on their own led directly to the wholly preventable deaths under the rubble of many people whose lives could have been saved by a swift response. Furthermore, the UN’s woefully inadequate response has been in no way propionate to the magnitude of the earthquake in northwestern Syria. Some mechanisms put in place for responding to disasters were invoked late, while others were not invoked at all, such as issuing an urgent distress call to mobilize efforts and teams from across the globe. The report adds that the donor states’ almost complete reliance on UN agencies in such aid operations, even while fully being aware of these bodies’ slowness and bureaucracy, means that those states share responsibility for the fatal lateness of the humanitarian response.
In the report, SNHR calls on the UN to launch an internal investigation into the lateness of the arrival of humanitarian aid in northwestern Syria, adding that the UNDAC must also be deployed to northwestern Syria as soon as possible to save and rescue whoever and whatever is left, along with the INSARAG, which must be deployed to respond to the challenges now being confronted by the already overwhelmed residents of northwestern Syria due to the earthquake. The report also calls for the establishment of an international support platform capable of handling the coordination of humanitarian assistance in northwestern Syria, which would act as a much-needed additional option supplementing the UN, with the report also making a number of other recommendations.