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Syria earthquake: Civil society group demands probe into UN response

Baytna Syria director says UN 'left Syrians to die alone' during the most critical 72-hour period after the earthquake first hit
A convoy of trucks from Doctors Without Borders, carrying aid to earthquake victims, enters Syria via the al-Hamam border crossing on 19 February 2023.
A convoy of trucks from Doctors Without Borders, carrying aid to earthquake victims, enters Syria via the al-Hamam border crossing, on 19 February 2023 (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington

A Syrian civil society group has called for an investigation into the United Nations' response to the first 72 hours after the devastating earthquakes struck southern Turkey and Syria earlier this month.

"The UN has failed Syrians. The UN has left Syrians to die alone for at least 72 hours, and the most critical 72 hours post-the earthquake," Assaad al-Achi, executive director of Baytna Syria, said on Tuesday during an online webinar hosted by the Arab Center, a Washington-based think tank.

“We need a serious investigation on what happened in those first 72 hours, and why aid was not [delivered], why those teams were not mobilised for Syria. For all of Syria, not only for the northwest.”

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Middle East Eye reached out to the office of the spokesperson for the UN secretary general, but did not receive a comment by the time of publication.

The 6 February earthquakes which hit Turkey and Syria killed more than 50,000 people in both countries, and injured tens of thousands more.

For northwest Syria, while local groups immediately began search and rescue operations, much-needed international assistance did not come for days.

Hundreds of civilians died under the rubble due to a lack of life-saving aid - including machines to remove the rubble - in the first three days of the disaster, according to local rescue teams.

The disaster killed more than 4,500 people in the rebel-held northwest of Syria, according to the United Nations.

UN apology 'won't bring back dead'

The first aid convoys from the UN into northwest Syria came on 9 February, three days after the quake. Since then, more than 280 trucks have crossed into the region as of last Thursday, the regional humanitarian coordinator (RHC) for the Syria Crisis told Reuters.

The UN said it will scale up aid deliveries to Syria's rebel-held northwest in the coming days to help millions affected, a senior UN official said last Thursday.

On 13 February, the UN announced that Syria had agreed to open two more border crossings into the northwest. Prior to this, the UN had only been allowed to deliver aid to the northwest Idlib area through a single crossing at Bab al-Hawa.

The UN also launched a $400m humanitarian appeal for Syria, but as of Thursday, only 27 percent has been funded.

Martin Griffiths, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, acknowledged the international body's shortcomings in Syria, saying on Twitter on 12 February that the Syrian people were right to feel abandoned.

"Although Martin Griffiths offered his apologies, unfortunately, his apologies are not going to bring [back] people who died under the rubble," said Achi.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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