Turkey earthquake - humanitarian update

Briefing Notes, 1 November 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 November 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first two flights in our humanitarian airlift for the victims of eastern Turkey's devastating earthquake arrived in Erzurum on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, bringing 1,000 tents and 20,000 blankets. During the offloading of the second flight in Erzurum on Sunday, our chartered Ilyushin IL-76 was damaged by another taxiing aircraft. We found another aircraft yesterday and the third flight touched down in Erzurum at 00.30 today. A fourth and last flight carrying UNHCR relief items from our emergency stockpile in Dubai is scheduled to land within the next 24 hours.

The aid has been loaded onto trucks for onwards distribution, most likely to the town of Ercis, some 25 kilometres east of Van. Ercis was close to the quake's epicenter and was heavily impacted. UNHCR's emergency relief response for the victims of the earthquake amounts to 4,000 tents, 50,000 blankets and 10,000 sleeping mats. Part of this assistance comes from a consignment which was shipped to Turkey earlier this year.

According to the Turkish authorities, more than 600 people lost their lives and another 4,000 were injured in the earthquake, which struck Van and its surroundings a week ago. The city of Van alone has a population of some 400,000 people and many homes have been reduced to rubble or rendered unusable.

As well as helping the authorities with the immense shelter needs of the local population, a particular focus of our operation in Turkey is the well being of some 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers who were living in the area at the time the quake struck.

Most of these refugees and asylum seekers are Iranian and Afghan nationals. Their living conditions resemble those of other residents of Van. They need food, water and warm shelter as the autumn and winter months in this part of Turkey are harsh. There is already some snow on the ground and night temperatures have dropped to below zero. Many refugees and asylum seekers are afraid and some, on their own initiative, have left Van.

Relief assistance for Van is increasing by the day. There are presently three distribution points in the city. Together with our partners we are providing updated information to refugees and asylum seekers.

Last week (Friday) we deployed additional teams to support UNHCR staff who were present during the quake and who volunteered to stay on. Our office in Van remains operational and is working closely with the local authorities and NGOs to facilitate deliveries of humanitarian aid.

The Turkish Government and the local authorities in Van are working on a plan to relocate some people away from the disaster zone. Relocations of registered asylum seekers and refugees are being organized on a voluntary basis and our teams in Van are counselling and advising groups under our mandate. For the time being, the registration of potential new asylum seekers will be carried out in other cities rather than in Van. Our teams are facilitating their interviews and relocations as needed.

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