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Turks in Germany send help to earthquake zone

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, 08.02.2023
Mehr als drei Millionen Türkeistämmige leben in Deutschland. Nach dem schweren Erdbeben in der Türkei fürchten viele um Angehörige - und wollen helfen.
Mehr als drei Millionen Türkeistämmige leben in Deutschland. Nach dem schweren Erdbeben in der Türkei fürchten viele um Angehörige - und wollen helfen. © Julius-Christian Schreiner/dpa

Until 3 a.m, Yasin Kesginlikimiloglu was helping load vans with warm clothing, blankets and baby food, he told DW. 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 center parking lot. All of them had one concern in mind: the fates of those caught in the earthquake on the Turkish-Syrian border.

"Everyone who had something at home packed it in a car and came here," Kesginlikimiloglu said.

Worried about loved ones

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

"Even if we're 4,000 kilometers away, we can do something good for those impacted by the earthquake," he said, adding that he does not know anyone personally in the affected region, but he knows many who do.

"It wasn't easy, but in the end I was able to reach my sister in Kayseri," Gökay Sofuoglu, the head of the Turkish Community in Germany, told DW. Although not at the center 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.

Long-term aid necessary

That need will persist long after the media attention wanes, which is a concern for Sofuoglu, who said he is helping organize long-term aid for those who "lost everything."

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

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," Hakan Demir, a lawmaker in the Bundestag, the German parliament, told DW. "They are understandably hysterical and begging that Germany, that we as the Bundestag and the federal government, act fast."

Official aid

The first, official response, Demir said, came in the form of 20 tons 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 who have fled the war in Ukraine.

For him and many others, he added, it will be another long night loading vans in the commercial parking lot.