More than five million Syrians may be homeless after Monday’s devastating earthquakes that struck the country and its neighbour Turkey, according to a United Nations official.
“As many as 5.3 million people in Syria may have been left homeless by the earthquake,” Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday. “That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement.”
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“For Syria, this is a crisis within a crisis,” he added, “We’ve had economic shocks, COVID and are now in the depths of winter, with blizzards raging in the affected areas.”
Survivors of the magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 quakes have flocked to camps set up for people displaced by nearly 12 years of war from other parts of Syria. Many lost their homes or are too scared to return to damaged buildings.
Some 24,000 people have already died across Turkey and Syria because of the quake – more than 3,300 of those in Syria.
Dhanapala said the UNHCR has been “rushing aid” to the badly affected parts of Syria, but “it’s been very, very difficult”.
“There are 6.8 million people already internally displaced in the country. And this was before the earthquake.”
Meanwhile, a second UN aid convoy of 14 trucks has crossed into rebel-held areas of Syria – after an initial six vehicles went in on Thursday.
The Syrian government has said it will allow aid deliveries to rebel-held areas outside of its control, in cooperation with the UN and humanitarian organisations.
“The full scale of the devastation in Syria is only beginning to come to light,” said Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN in New York.
Although more aid convoys are getting through the one authorised border point into the hardest-hit areas, our correspondent said critics argue it is too little, too late.
“The majority of [people made homeless from the quake are] in areas the Syrian government doesn’t control, where people had already been uprooted by years of war,” she said.
On Friday the UN also released another $25m in emergency funding for Syria, bringing the total so far to $50m, Saloomey said, “but an assessment team is now on the ground and the needs are expected to well exceed that”.
The conflict in Syria started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful protests, and escalated to pull in foreign powers and armed groups.
Nearly half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced about half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes, with many seeking refuge in Turkey.