With foreign officials and dignitaries continuing their solidarity visits to Türkiye after the massive earthquakes that shook the country’s southern region on Feb. 6, the head of the UN’s migration agency has called on the international community to strengthen their aid efforts for both Türkiye and Syria’s quake victims.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu, Antonio Vitorino, director general of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), said “the international community must strengthen its efforts to ensure aid keeps reaching the millions of people who survived the devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria last month.”
Vitorino arrived in Türkiye last week to show solidarity and to convey his condolences following the earthquakes as he paid a visit to southernmost Hatay province.
Describing the disaster as “a big tragedy for the country,” Vitorino said “I have arrived in Türkiye to extend to the government and other partners my condolences for the earthquakes and reaffirm that IOM will continue scaling up its efforts and mobilizing all the resources to support further addressing of immediate needs of people in the affected areas and recovery efforts.”
Vitorino also thanked his IOM team for “their dedication, despite personal tragedy, and share my condolences for our three colleagues whom we heartbreakingly lost.”
Asked about his visit to Hatay, the IOM head said he had met people who survived the earthquakes.
“Their stories are heart-breaking. The consequences of this tragedy are almost unimaginable. Almost every service that we take for granted – healthcare, transport, food supply, water, sanitation and education — has been affected or simply ceased to exist,” he said.
Hailing the “quick” response of the Turkish government and its partners like IOM to the disaster, Vitorino also noted that “long-haul support is needed as Türkiye rebuilds and creates a new future for the millions whose lives have been torn apart.”
The IOM chief further emphasized that Türkiye “has an exemplary disaster management system, but the needs and the scale of the disaster are astronomical.”
He said his agency is working with the Turkish government and “international governments, the private sector and affected communities to scale up humanitarian assistance, utilizing IOM’s global capacity. For example, we mobilized relief items from stocks in Accra, Manila and New Delhi, and so far, we have ensured the arrival of 44 IOM and partner planes carrying aid.”
“To date, one million critical relief items including clothing items, mattresses, bedding and hygiene kits were dispatched to the affected areas in Türkiye. At the same time, we have sent 150 trucks into northwest Syria, and I am thankful to the government for their inclusive approach to the earthquake response facilitating the assistance of delivery into its neighboring country,” he added.
On the international community’s solidarity during such disasters, Vitorino said “the international community must strengthen its efforts to ensure aid keeps reaching the millions of people who survived the devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria last month.”
Emphasizing that “emergency efforts are vital and will continue,” he further noted that “the response is moving to a new phase.”
“The road to recovery will be long and hard, and this is when support from the international community is vital. The needs are immense – no one country should be expected to shoulder rebuilding after a disaster of this magnitude alone,” he said.
Vitorino recalled that Türkiye is hosting “the largest number of refugees in the world” and had shown “enormous generosity to people seeking safety here” before the crisis.
“It is now high time that the international community unite in efforts and show solidarity to help Türkiye to rebuild and recover,” he added.
Saying that the IOM launched an appeal for $161 million to address the immediate needs of affected populations in Türkiye and northwest Syria in early February, Vitorino announced that the agency had reached less than 30% of the target.
“I believe that a constant dialogue and strengthened partnerships will help communities cope with the aftermath of the earthquakes,” he said.
Asked about migration’s relation to disasters and crises around the world, Vitorino said “the link between disasters and human mobility can no longer be ignored, particularly as the world faces the increasing impacts of climate change.”
“Millions of people have been displaced by these earthquakes in Türkiye and neighboring Syria, and around the world today, millions more have been forced from their homes by drought in east Africa and cyclones off the continent’s coast, floods in Southeast Asia and hurricanes in the Caribbean,” he said.
Regarding IOM’s efforts in these matters, he said the agency closely works with governments and local partners in Türkiye and other countries across the world “to help address immediate needs of affected populations and support recovery efforts.”
“We also work with communities affected by disasters and climate change to help build resilience through disaster risk reduction and preparedness projects.
“Today, in Türkiye, as the country grapples with the aftermath of these historic earthquakes and recovery efforts begin, support is urgently needed for those living in displacement,” he said.
Vitorino further affirmed that “IOM will be co-leading efforts to coordinate the international community’s displacement management in temporary settlements, particularly informal sites where access to essential services like clean water and healthcare is dangerously limited,” with the government.
“However, despite its importance, funding has yet to be committed by the international community to this essential sector,” he added.
More than 47,900 people were killed in Türkiye by the magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 quakes, according to official figures.
Over 13.5 million people in Türkiye have been affected by the powerful tremors that rocked 11 provinces – Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, Malatya, Adana, Diyarbakir, Kilis, Osmaniye, Sanliurfa and Elazig.