On 6 February, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake centered in Gaziantep, Turkey heavily impacted Southern Turkey and Northern Syria. This earthquake was followed by other large-scale earthquakes throughout the day, causing more than 6,000 buildings to crumble. With Guardians of Equality Movement (GEM) headquartered in Gaziantep, our staff and beneficiaries have been highly affected by this earthquake. Civilians and families in Gaziantep are sleeping in cars and shelters in the freezing cold without reliable food, water, and fuel sources.
These earthquakes have had a devastating effect especially given that these areas have been the heart of the Syrian refugee crisis throughout the years. According to media sources, there have been over 8,574 deaths and 50,000 injuries in Turkey alone. In Syria, there have been a reported 2,530 deaths and over 3,700 injuries throughout the governorates of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, and Latakia. Northwest Syria (NWS) already suffers from a lack of resources, shelter, security, and severe weather conditions. Syrians have endured so much pain, loss, displacement, and suffering over the past 12 years due to war, conflict, drought, cholera, and a failing economy. The infrastructure in Northwest Syria was already crumbling due to war and ongoing shelling that has targeted essential services, including hospitals. Rescue and humanitarian teams in opposition and regime-held areas do not have the resources to respond to such a disaster and international rescue are unable to reach Syria.
Syrians living in these areas have all been impacted, but as previous crises have shown, those most socially and economically marginalized, including Syrian LGBTQIA+. Crises, such as this, only exacerbate the limited access to services for gender minorities, in particular transgender and A-typical individuals, whose access to services is minimized by social, cultural, and even legal barriers. Following these earthquakes, LGBTQIA+ individuals whose sexual identities have been exposed are at a higher risk of being captured, tortured, and killed by militant groups due to a lack of security. This is also the case for LGBTQIA+ activists and supporters working on the ground, including our GEM team.
GEM is working to deliver an emergency response to our team members in Turkey and Syria, who have been left homeless. We are also working to deliver an emergency response to Syrian LGBTQIA+ victims and activists through urgent cash assistance for those in need of
evacuation, temporary accommodation, and essential services. Once these services are mobilized, we will issue an open call for beneficiaries and referrals. GEM also plans to deliver longer-term services in mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS), understanding that such traumatic experiences will have a detrimental effect on the mental health of victims and survivors, especially those who have had adverse experiences prior to these events.