Children orphaned by the Turkey-Syria earthquake face an uncertain future


A baby started her life surrounded by chaos and devastation this week.

Supposedly named Aya – which means ‘miracle’ in Arabic – she was born under the rubble of Monday’s deadly earthquake, still attached to her mother’s lifeless body by the umbilical cord when rescuers found her.

Her story certainly seems miraculous, as she survived for more than 10 hours under the rubble of her family’s five-story building in northern Syria after it was destroyed during the pre-dawn magnitude 7.8 earthquake.

“We heard a voice while we were digging,” the baby’s cousin, Khalil al-Suwadi, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday. “We dusted it off and found the baby with the umbilical cord (intact) so we cut it and my cousin took her to the hospital.”

Tragically, the baby’s mother did not survive and is believed to have died within hours of giving birth. In fact, the newborn is believed to be the only survivor of her immediate family, her cousin told the news agency.

The newborn will be looked after by her great-uncle once she is discharged from the hospital.

Orphaned Aya – who was reportedly identified by doctors – is now receiving treatment at a children’s hospital in the nearby town of Afrin, where pediatrician Hani Maarouf told AFP she is stable but arrived with bruises, lacerations and hypothermia.

Images of their incredible rescue quickly went viral online and garnered international attention.

Many from around the world asked how they could adopt her. However, it has been confirmed that Aya’s great-uncle, Salah al-Badran, will take her in once she is discharged from hospital, despite her own home being destroyed in the earthquake, the Guardian reported.

According to UNICEF emergency communication expert Joe English, adoption should never take place immediately after an emergency.

“Until the whereabouts of a child’s parents or other close family members can be verified, each separated child is considered to have living next of kin,” he told CNN. “Every effort should be made to reunite children with their families where appropriate, if such reunification is in their best interest.”

Likewise, 3-year-old Tariq Haidar was pulled alive from the wreckage of his home in Jandaris, northern Syria, 42 hours after the earthquake, Reuters news agency reported. He was taken to the hospital where doctors were forced to amputate his left leg.

His family did not survive. Malek Qasida, a nurse caring for him, told Reuters: “They pulled out his father and two of his brothers before him, dead.” The body of his mother and a third brother were later recovered from the wreckage, residents said, according to Reuters.

Aya and Tariq are just two of an unknown number of children in Turkey and Syria left orphaned after Monday’s deadly earthquake.

The initial tremor occurred shortly after 4 am local time, while many people were sleeping.

“While we don’t yet have verified numbers, given the catastrophic and rising death toll, it is clear that many, many children will have lost parents or caregivers in these devastating earthquakes,” said UNICEF’s English.

“Urgently identifying unaccompanied children and those who may have been separated from their parents and caregivers is absolutely critical so that they can receive adequate care and support in the short term, and so that we can begin the work of locating and reuniting with the family.

“Following these types of disasters, displaced children, especially those unaccompanied or separated from their families, are left vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse, including the risk of trafficking or gender-based violence.”

Rescue workers try to rescue a child trapped under rubble, after the deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, February 10, 2023.

He added: “In addition to our immediate response to saving lives by providing clean water, warm winter clothing, medical and nutritional supplies, UNICEF is also working with our partners to provide affected children with psychosocial and mental health support, to help them them to process their experiences. and begin to address the trauma that many children may have experienced.

“This is not a short-term job and will require dedicated, long-term support as we help children and families rebuild their shattered lives.”

Meanwhile, the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) – made up of 15 leading UK charities – said its member organizations would be closely monitoring and supporting unaccompanied and separated children.

“They do this by establishing child-friendly spaces, providing age-appropriate psychosocial and resilience activities, expert case management and alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children,” Madara Hettiarachchi, director of programs and accountability at DEC, told CNN.

Information about the exact number of children left without parents is still unclear. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Services on Friday, the families of 263 children who were pulled from the rubble in Turkey could not be contacted.

Among these children, 162 continue to receive care at the hospital, while 101 children have been transferred to relevant ministry units and institutionalized after treatment.

The death toll in Turkey and Syria is more than 28,000, according to officials.

An excavator excavates the rubble of a house where the entire family, except a newborn baby, was killed, on February 7, 2023, in the city of Jandaris.

In Turkey, the number of people killed has risen to 24,617, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said at a news conference on Saturday. In Syria, the total death toll stood at 3,575 as of Saturday.

Rescue teams are racing against time to pull survivors out of the rubble of collapsed buildings in freezing winter conditions.

Efforts were also hampered by blocked roads, damaged infrastructure and several violent aftershocks.

There have been some incredible tales of survival. A 16-year-old boy has been pulled alive from the rubble of a destroyed building in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, 119 hours after the devastating earthquake hit the country. A 10-year-old girl was rescued alive from the wreckage in Hatay province in southern Turkey after 147 hours.

However, Cristian Popovici, Antena 3 affiliate of CNN Romania, warned on Friday that, as the hours pass, incredible scenes like these will become less frequent. “The chances of this happening are less than 1%, mainly because of the sub-zero temperatures recorded here at night.

“It really is a miracle, unfortunately we see less and less of it now, but it’s happening and that’s what all these people here are working for, to keep saving lives.”

The miraculous rescues seen over the past week have been scenes of incredible joy mixed with sadness, as some children are pulled alive from the rubble of their homes only to discover that the rest of their immediate family did not survive. Humanitarian aid agencies warn that it is too early to say exactly how many children were orphaned in the tragedy.

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