2.5 million children in Türkiye need urgent humanitarian assistance, says UNICEF Executive Director, following two-day visit to Türkiye
ANKARA, 28 February 2023 – UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell today concluded a two-day visit to Türkiye, where she met with children and families affected by the powerful earthquakes that hit southeast Türkiye and northern Syria earlier this month.
Russell highlighted the importance of social services, including water and sanitation, and psychosocial support for affected children. She visited a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Gaziantep, where children and parents receive mental health support and counselling to help them heal and recover. Russell also met with families in Kahramanmaraş, including Syrian refugee families, and saw the temporary accommodation centre that currently houses 17,000 people—nearly one-third of them children.
“The earthquakes were an absolutely cataclysmic event for children in affected communities,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Walking around, you see fragments of families’ everyday lives, as if frozen in time. Amid an unimaginable level of destruction, with building after building reduced to rubble, you’ll see a blanket, a toy or a child’s book - remnants of young lives violently disrupted or cut short.”
Working closely with the Government of Türkiye including the Ministry of Interior Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) and Presidency of Migration Management (PMM), UNICEF has been providing psychosocial support to children and families affected, setting up child-friendly and temporary learning spaces, identifying separated and unaccompanied children and reuniting them with their families or caregivers, assessing damage to water stations and services, as well as evaluating health and nutrition needs of affected people.
Across earthquake-affected areas of Türkiye, 2.5 million children need urgent humanitarian assistance. UNICEF has so far reached nearly 277,000 people—including over 163,000 children—with lifesaving supplies, including hygiene kits, winter clothes, electrical heaters and blankets. UNICEF, through its partners, has also reached over 198,000 individuals with psychological first aid and recreation activities in affected areas and other cities.
In Kahramanmaraş camp, Russell spoke to a 28-year-old mother of four, who “thought it was the end of the world” when she awoke during the first earthquake. “She described hearing screaming and shouting and then darkness,” said Russell. “She’s thankful that they all survived but believes it will take a long time for her children’s emotional wounds to fully heal. That is why providing psychosocial support to children affected is so critically important.”
The earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks have turned the lives of millions of children upside down and left many afraid, confused, and in desperate need of psychosocial support. Russell joined a group of children at a UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre where the children drew pictures of places that brought back good memories and thoughts for them. “I feel better after hearing the other children feel good,” Yagmur, an 8-year-old girl, told Russell.
“The physical destruction this earthquake brought is clear to all, but the less-visible, emotional toll on children is just as profound,” said Russell. “That’s why psychosocial support plays a critical part in helping children heal, and for families to rebuild their lives. By providing children with a safe space to express their feelings, connect with others, and rebuild their sense of security, we can help them heal and recover.”
UNICEF is also working to ensure that children are able to return to learning as soon as possible. The organization is assessing damage to schools and making preparations for immediate repairs and the establishment of temporary learning spaces.
In Türkiye, UNICEF is requesting US$196 million to reach 3 million people, including 1.5 million children, with critical supplies; water, sanitation and hygiene; health and nutrition; child protection; education; and humanitarian cash support to vulnerable children.