Written By: Sofie Hamdi
Master of Political Sciences (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Middle Eastern Studies (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), freelance journalist/research
The communities in Jindires, Afrin that were most impacted by the February 2023 earthquake do not receive a significant amount of humanitarian relief.
In order to have a better understanding of the aid distribution following the earthquake, Tevin spoke with aid workers in Jindires. Interviews were conducted through the phone.
It found that there is a failure, as local aid organizations are obliged to provide aid to camps where mostly affiliates from militias and internally displaced persons live, while many of the affected Kurds reside in the city. Accordingly, TEVIN warns that the local council and armed factions in Jindires have been and will continue to exploit the aid distribution mechanism to deprive Kurds of aid to their advantage.
This paper is part of a series of advocacy papers that Tevin is publishing on the aftermath of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria. These papers are based on witness accounts in the affected areas, and focus on the social, economic, and political implications of the disaster.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the town of Jindires in northwest Syria on February 6, 2023. As a result, hundreds of buildings were damaged or collapsed. Additionally, hundreds of people suffered injuries or died, and hundreds of households have been in need for help.
The afflicted populace now lives in tents in relief organizations' camps set up near Jindires or on the street right next to their destroyed home. Others relocated to stay with family in neighboring villages.
The needs are high. People already suffered from poverty as a result of the war, and the earthquake just made their situation worse. There is not enough food, employment, building supplies, or money to rebuild the damaged homes.
Local organizations like Bahar, Shafak, GOAL, Ihsan, SEMA, Big Heart, or the Syrian Civil Defense have been distributing humanitarian aid in the city.
Aid is provided in the form of cash, tents, or food. Aid in the early days following the earthquake also supplied tools for finding and rescuing persons from under the rubble.
There hasn't been much international assistance, particularly from the United Nations (UN). Media reports claim that the Barzani Charity Foundation was the first international aid agency to enter the town. Yet an aid worker told TEVIN that their aid operation has not been going smoothly.
“I was supposed to receive one tent because my name was included on their list. Because they couldn't maintain the tents, they called and I had to come. They stated that strange individuals who claimed to be affected were robbing the tents, and they were unable to stop them.” Says an interviewee.
The majority of the families and relatives from the armed groups affiliated with the Syrian National Army, which is supported by Türkiye and controlling the city, are said to live in the camps. The locals, who are mostly Kurds, want to remain in the city or the adjacent villages.
“The residents of Jindires don’t accept living in camps, because they have a house here and they want to stay”, said one aid worker. Those people, according to all humanitarian workers, do not receive enough assistance.
“They did receive aid but it wasn't all that useful for them. Some households received two bags of bread each day. That's it.”
They are given money from people in Europe by some relief workers. However, these are little sums—$50 to $100—and the distribution is not organized.
The aid workers disperse the small sums of money without the local council's knowledge because, if they did, military factions would steal it, they claim.
Meanwhile the majority of the aid is given to camp residents built by aid organizations in cooperation with the local council. The population of these camps are mostly affiliates of military groupings or internally displaced Syrians coming from other cities such as Homs, Hama, and Damascus.
Aid distribution mechanism
Local relief workers typically distribute aid in collaboration with local council members by requesting them for lists of families in need. The monitoring team then confirms the family's status to see if they qualify for assistance.
Aid workers are said to be obligated to give aid to the people residing in the camps, due to the local relief organizations' compliance to the criteria for distribution established by their donors, which are frequently governments.
People who have been internally displaced are thought to be the most vulnerable based on those criteria. Because they are displaced, lack employment, housing, are injured, have lost family members to the war, are frequently women, or have lots of children.
The IDPs residing in the camps, though, were largely unaffected by the earthquake compared to the locals.
“IDPs make up 70 percent of the population of Jindires. They are without homes. Instead, they stay in tents or camps. The earthquake had little of an impact on their homes. The host communities, who are frequently Kurds, were those most impacted. There is a lot of misinformation concerning the camps in this city. You always assume that a tent you see nearby is for everyone who lives in Jindires, but that is untrue.”, said one interviewee.
The interviewees claim that the local council and armed factions are aware that aid distribution mechanisms are monitored in that way. As a result, they resort to this aid mechanism to build camps and bring relatives and friends of the militias or provide additional aid to the IDPs, while often Kurdish citizens are deprived of aid in a discriminatory manner.
One interviewee: “we asked the local council how to distribute the aid in the first days after the earthquake. They told us to make camps around Jindires. We made camps and the armed forces took their families there. Meanwhile the IDPs who were already living in camps due to the war have been taking advantage of the opportunity to get additional aid.”
This claim is said to find its roots in the discriminatory and demographic engineering policy of the current rulers in Jindires, since the 2018 Turkish invasion. It also corresponds with the situation the first days after the earthquake.
“They were saying that Kurds are animals and that we had to dig our children out with our own hands. They were very discriminating. The civil defense helped all people, but the militias prevented them from helping us”, one interviewee said.
Besides this, it appears that other factors are complicating the distribution of aid among the beneficiaries.
One interviewee: “the local council is not organized, although they have been working here for five years. When you ask them for a list of people in need, they don’t have the correct numbers. Often 10-20 percent of the names are fake.”
The numbers are collected by volunteers who are often deprived of employment, according to one interviewee.
“There is a delegate in each district. He lists the names of those who reside in the area. He lists the names of his brothers, friends, and family as he gives the names. But they don't qualify for aid according to the criteria. When you ask them why they do that, they respond that they don't receive a salary and must do that in order to provide a living for them.” According to media outlets these goods often become sold or distributed among family and friends.
This paper attempted to explain the current state of affairs in Jindires and expose the deficits and gaps regarding the distribution of humanitarian aid in the city.
Two points were highlighted: firstly, the lack of conformity between the needs of the population on the ground and the criteria determined by the internationally set distribution mechanism. Secondly, the abuse of this deficit by the ruling forces on the ground and the consequences for mostly Kurdish residents in the city.
The paper also indicated that, despite these tendencies, some relief workers avoid working with the local council and distribute aid, often money, by going directly to the people in the city.
According to the interviewees there are still many villages in the area that didn’t get any help. “The earthquake affected many villages in addition to Jindires. There are devastated, remote towns along the Syrian-Turkish border, but no organization has yet accessed those areas. Unfortunately, because all assistance goes to the camps in Jindires.”
The relief workers commit to finding a solution that will enable all impacted villages to be visited, all needs to be determined, and all aid to be given appropriately.
Tevin’s team members would like to thank all interviewees for their significant input to this paper.