Tragic details have emerged for Turkish and Syrian families in Ireland of deaths of relatives in the two earthquakes that have claimed more than 41,000 lives. One family living near Belfast lost more than 20 close relatives in the disaster.
Ireland announced an additional €8 million in emergency assistance for the shattered people of Turkey and Syria on Monday. This will bring the total direct Irish response to €10 million, following €2 million donated by the government last week.
In addition, several million more euro has been donated by the public to Irish-based charities like GOAL and Concern operating in the quake zones.
Some charities lost volunteers in the disaster. GOAL reported 27 dead – 26 Turks and one Syrian – who were all local workers. A spokesman reported four more were still missing in the rubble of collapsed buildings. The charity has 950 staff in the region, all locals.
As Irish aid was rushed to Turkey and Syria, there were heartbreaking accounts for people from the two countries based in Ireland of how some of their families and other relatives lost lives in the tragedy.
Members of a Syrian family living in Dunmurry, Co Antrim, are mourning the loss of over 20 members of their family in the quakes.
Mohamed Salaho, 18, his parents, Amal Jerad, 55, and Thaer, 57, and sister Baraa, 20, are originally from Idlib in northwestern Syria but have lived in Northern Ireland for the past six years.
Mohamed told Belfast Live, “My mum has basically lost her entire family including all of her five sisters and four brothers, some in Turkey and others in Syria. They are all confirmed dead but they have left their children behind.
“Some of these 10 children who survived are aged between just a few months old and seven years old. Now they have no one and are on the street. They are sleeping outside because all the shelters are full.
“We had a phone call from one of these kids who told us 'you are our last hope in life, we lost our parents and we have no home to stay in, no food, no milk for the babies.’”
Mohamed’s father also lost some of his brothers and sisters in the disaster. “He was on the phone with one of his sisters while she was under the rubble. They managed to get her out but the building exploded and we lost contact with her,” he said.
Ergin Kuccuk, 47, a Turk-born chef based in Tralee, Co Kerry, flew to Elbistan in Turkey last week in a bid to find his sister Hanim and parents Ali and Done Kuccuk in the rubble.
Ergin’s wife Rachel, 41, told the Irish Independent they received calls that his father and mother were missing and they were last seen going into their house before it fell on top of them. He flew out the next day.
Rachel, who has traveled from Ireland with Ergin to his hometown for the past 23 years, said he found his parents, both deceased, only a meter apart in the rubble. He then went to search for his sister Hanim. She was found in the bedroom of another building, her arms wrapped around her husband Ali. They were also deceased.
Rachel said, “They were buried, still cuddling, on Saturday.”
Rachel and her 21-year-old daughter Seniz, a student at University College Cork, set up a GoFundMe fundraiser for key items, including warm clothes, for survivors in Elbistan.
By Wednesday over €21k was raised and Rachel, a retail assistant, said the family was absolutely overwhelmed by the support of the people of Co Kerry.
*This column first appeared in the February 15 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.