Germany is home to more than three million people with Turkish roots. Many of them are worried about loved ones affected by the devastating earthquake in southern Turkey – and they want to help.

Earthquake in Turkey
Germany’s Turkish community sends aid

Germany is home to more than three million people with Turkish roots. Many of them are worried about loved ones affected by the devastating earthquake in southern Turkey – and they want to help. Peter Hille reports

Yasin Kesginlikimiloglu was helping load vans with warm clothing, blankets and baby food until 3 a.m., he admitted. The 38-year-old lives in Stuttgart, and his family comes from Turkey.

He said he was one of hundreds of volunteers who spent the night in a shopping centre carpark. All of them had one concern in mind: the fates of those caught in the earthquake on the Turkish-Syrian border.

"News of the disaster spread like wildfire in the WhatsApp groups," says Kesginlikimiloglu. " Everyone who had something at home packed things into their cars and drove to the collection points where trucks were waiting. Ten people were in each truck and the rest were outside passing boxes and bags, hand to hand."

Eight vans were already on their way to Turkey, Kesginlikimiloglu said, with more possibly joining along the way from other German cities.

Yasin Kesginlikimiloglu (centre) loads trucks with aid for Turkey's earthquake victims (image: private)
Help for the earthquake victims: Yasin Kesginlikimiloglu said he was one of hundreds of volunteers who spent the night in a shopping centre carpark. All of them had one concern in mind: the fates of those caught in the earthquake on the Turkish-Syrian border. "News of the disaster spread like wildfire in the WhatsApp groups," says Kesginlikimiloglu. " Everyone who had something at home packed things into their cars and drove to the collection points where trucks were waiting. Ten people were in each truck and the rest were outside passing boxes and bags, hand to hand"

"Even if we're 4,000 kilometres away, we can do something good for those impacted by the earthquake. Many just ran into the streets in the clothes they had on," he said, adding that he does not know anyone personally in the affected region, but he knows many who do.

Flights to Turkey fully booked

"It wasn't easy, but in the end I was able to reach my sister in Kayseri," said Gokay Sofuoglu, head of the Turkish Community in Germany. Although not at the centre of the quake, "it was difficult enough. How much more desperate it must be for those in Kahramanmaras or Malatya".

Many people are now trying to fly to Turkey to personally look for loved ones, he added, but the flights are booked out.

Meanwhile, the rapid and large response to help those in need is welcome. "The people there need health products, blankets and sleeping bags," Sofuoglu said. That need will persist long after the media attention wanes, which is a concern for Sofuoglu, who said he is helping organise long-term aid for those who "lost everything".

There is precedent for this. After a devastating earthquake rocked north-western Turkey in 1999, a benefactor programme was established that connected people in Germany with victims in Turkey. Money flowed in every month.

Hakan Demir SPD Member of the German Bundestag (image: picture-alliance/geissler Fotopress)
Numerous calls from desperate people: "Many people are telling me that they’ve already lost relatives and they are under the rubble," revealed Hakan Demir, a lawmaker in the Bundestag. "They are understandably hysterical and begging that Germany, that we as the Bundestag and the federal government, act fast"

 

20 tonnes of aid already flown in

For now though, the immediate concern is finding loved ones, which has led some families in Germany to turn their attention to political action. Calls are pouring in to elected officials.

"Many people are telling me that they’ve already lost relatives and they are under the rubble," revealed Hakan Demir, a lawmaker in the Bundestag. "They are understandably hysterical and begging that Germany, that we as the Bundestag and the federal government, act fast."

The first, official response, Demir said, came in the form of 20 tonnes of goods along with rescue assistance. "We are of course in close contact with Turkey and the large community here with roots in Turkey, who have relatives there," he added.

While this time it's personal for many of the volunteers, Kesginlikimiloglu in Stuttgart said it is just part of a spirit of helping those in need. He and others in the Turkish community have responded to other humanitarian crises, he said, such as the floods in western Germany in 2021 or refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

For him and many others, he added, it will be another long night loading vans in the supermarket carpark.

Peter Hille

© Deutsche Welle 2023

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