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Earthquakes Struck the Heart of the World’s Largest Refugee Population. Here’s How to Help

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Updated: | Originally published:

The devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria early Monday, are affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world. More than four million Syrians who rely on immediate humanitarian aid live in the region, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The first earthquake, which was magnitude 7.8, is one of the strongest to hit the region in the last century, affecting an area already confronting a cholera outbreak and harsh winter weather. On Thursday, the government confirmed that more than 20,000 people had died, making the disaster deadlier than the 1999 earthquakes that rocked the country, killing some 17,000.

Read More: Everything We Know About the Deadly Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

In Turkey and Syria, tens of thousands have been injured in the earthquakes, which struck when many people were in bed asleep.

Such was the case for Tajaldein AlKaisi, the International Rescue Committee’s Syria Field Director, who awoke to his apartment building shaking around 4:20 a.m. in the midst of snowfall. Due to the risk of collapse, AlKaisi has been sleeping in a car. “The worst part of the experience was the unknown. We seriously didn’t know where to go and what to do. We’re just waiting to receive messages and we are hoping for the best and not to see our apartment collapsing, and not to hear bad news about our people getting injured by this crisis,” AlKaisi said.

Turkey is the world’s biggest refugee host country. About 3.6 million Syrian refugees live in the nation following the protracted Syrian Civil War. Many of these refugees live in southeastern Turkey in the area where the earthquakes struck.

The humanitarian situation in Syria makes recovery even more precarious for people there. The only border crossing where international aid can cross into Syria was damaged in the earthquake.

Northwest Syria, where more than 60% of people are internally displaced, was already facing much devastation amid an ongoing cholera outbreak that limited the population’s access to clean water. Now, CARE’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director Nirvana Shawky tells TIME that people are in dire need of blankets, mattresses, baby clothes, baby food, hygiene kits, clean drinking water, and thermal clothing. “These are related to how people ran out of their homes and could not actually pack properly. There is also immense need in regards to shelters for people to just seek cover. And of course, the winter storm has not been helpful in this regard,” Shawky says.

Turkey earthquakes map
The earthquakes that struck early Monday, Feb. 6 were some of the biggest in the region in a century.Lon Tweeten–TIME
Earthquakes jolts Turkiye's provinces
An aerial view of a damaged building after an earthquake in Adana, Turkey on Feb. 06, 2023.Oguz Yeter—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Some nations have already committed to sending aid. The U.K. promised to send a team of 76 search and rescue specialists and rescue dogs to Turkey. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed condolences and said his government is mobilizing resources to help.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also tweeted that it was launching immediate assistance from their Disaster Response Emergency Fund to make sure relief efforts can continue.

In cases like these, experts say the best way to help people is by sending money to relief groups, instead of sending goods. “Cash allows us to not only be faster, but it allows those who are helping these communities, be adaptable to what the community needs,” Patricia McIlreavy, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, says. “It also infuses money into the economy because the things that are going to be bought then are local.”

Here are some organizations that are working to help people affected by the earthquakes.

Syrian American Medical Society

The Syrian American Medical Society is a relief organization working on the front lines of the crisis. They continue to service the area though at least one of their hospitals has been closed due to damages caused by the temblors.

They are asking for donations to purchase trauma supplies and continue to provide emergency aid to their patients.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

The UNHCR is currently in Turkey and Syria providing high thermal blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, sleeping mats, winter clothing kits, and winter jackets. You can donate here.


The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has also mobilized aid to Syria, and is focusing on assessing the impact the quake had on water stations and any other interruptions to services. It is also assessing the damages schools face. UNICEF said another priority is helping unaccompanied children find their families.

You can donate here to help.

Powerful earthquake hits Syria and Turkey
Syrian civilians and members of the White Helmets work to save people trapped beneath a destroyed building following a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit Syria, on Feb. 6 2023.Anas Alkharboutli—picture-alliance/dpa/AP

The White Helmets

The White Helmets, a nonprofit organization made up of 3,000 volunteers who help the Syrian community, said they need more equipment and supplies to continue numerous search and rescue operations in the region.

The organization previously helped deliver primary care to patients with COVID-19, offered ambulance services to those with more severe cases, and also regularly provides maternal healthcare.

You can make a financial contribution at the following link.

Turkish Red Crescent (Türk Kızılay)

The Turkish Red Crescent has more than 240 staff and hundreds of volunteers in the disaster region providing mobile kitchen and catering services to the region, according to a press release. They are also sending over tents, blankets and beds.

The organization is asking people to donate blood as they continue to ship blood from their existing supplies throughout the day. The Red Crescent provided their bank details for donations in a tweet, but you can also donate here.

International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization that responds to the most serious humanitarian crises, works in more than 40 countries. “IRC teams are on the ground and working tirelessly to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, local partners and those affected,” said Tanya Evans, the Syria Country Director for IRC.

Consider making a gift here.

Aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Kahramanmaras
People gather around a bonfire following an earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey on Feb. 6, 2023.Cagla Gurdogan—Reuters

Save the Children

Save the Children is working in northwest Syria and Turkey to best assess aid necessary, but are planning to support affected communities with emergency kits amid the harsh winter weather. You can make a contribution to their Children’s Emergency Fund at the following link.

Global Giving

Global Giving, a nonprofit that connects other nonprofits to donors, has launched the Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund, with a goal of raising $5 million dollars to help with the immediate food, shelter and water needs. Once the initial need is completed, funds will support longer-term recovery efforts.

Project HOPE

Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian aid organization, has deployed emergency teams to help on-the-ground. You can support their work here.

Humanitarian Relief Foundation

The IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation has been serving communities impacted by catastrophe and war since its founding in 1992. It is collecting donations to send water, food, and shelter materials to people in need. They also have a mobile soup kitchen making rounds in the region. Consider donating here.

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders has provided immediate emergency support through additional staffing, blankets and kits in northwestern Syria in the wake of the earthquake. You can help by donating at the following link.

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is a humanitarian medical aid group that specializes in disaster response. They are currently mobilizing medical aid and helping fund search and rescue teams in coordination with local officials. You can support the cause here.


CARE, an organization dedicated to helping fight for and end to gender inequality and poverty, is currently in the area delivering essential supplies and trying to help build makeshift shelters where people can seek refuge.

Make a financial contribution here.

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