Stories of survival from Syria and Türkiye

Abdurrahman Can, Başpınar (Küllüm) village leader, Adıyaman, Türkiye.

Türkiye 2023 © Mariana Abdalla/MSF

Alert is a quarterly magazine published by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-USA) that features ground reporting from our work around the world. This article appears in the Winter 2023 issue (Vol. 24, no. 3), The Year in Photos: Voices of 2023.

The devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria on February 6 left more than 50,000 people dead and millions displaced. In Idlib province, Syria, where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was already responding to the humanitarian emergency stemming from years of grinding conflict, our teams were among the first to respond, treating patients within hours after the first earthquake struck.

We also provided water and sanitation infrastructure in camps where people twice displaced—first by war, then by earthquakes—are living in squalid conditions. Across the border in Türkiye, we supported local partners as they carried out lifesaving work on the ground, delivering essential supplies and providing psychosocial support to emergency workers.

MSF staff were also personally impacted by the earthquakes. Our psychosocial support care unit (PSCU) in Amman, Jordan, has cared for more than 500 staff working in Syria since February 6. “The earthquake was what we call a critical incident, which requires a totally different psychological intervention compared to our regular support,” said Dr. Bashar Ghassan, the manager of the PSCU. “It met all the criteria of a traumatic event: It was life-threatening, unexpected, and unthinkable. The natural response of our staff was fear and panic.” There is still a long way to go on the road to recovery. Here, we share the stories of the people still working to pick up the pieces in the wake of the disaster.

A mother and daughter beside their tent after being displaced by the earthquake in Turkey.

Türkiye 2023 © Igor Barbero/ MSF

Dilan Adıyaman


“We don’t have any plans to move. We wouldn’t know where to go because we have always lived in Adıyaman. What can we do? This is our place, our life. Now we spend our days not doing much: standing around, looking … and it’s very cold. Every now and then we get the feeling that the floor is shaking.”

Yusuf Eren Ozkan Düzce


“I came to visit my parents when I had a break from school. The night of the first earthquakes, I was playing video games in my room. At first, I thought it was going to stop shaking after a few seconds, but then I realized this was going to be bigger.

After the first earthquake, me and my family still stayed in our house, and we turned on the TV and tried to find out what happened through the news. That’s when the second earthquake happened, and things got a bit tougher for us. We went outside and it was very cold, there was a lot of snow on the ground and falling from the sky. Then a rock fell and hit me and my father, and we were injured. We eventually set up a tent by ourselves for protection.

Now, me and my family are working in a communal restaurant, making and serving food for about 4,000 people. I’m here to help, but I feel hopeless about this village now. I have many dreams and I just want to live somewhere else. I want to pursue my dream of becoming a chef.”

A young man who was displaced by the earthquakes in Turkey.

Türkiye 2023 © Mariana Abdalla/MSF

A young man who was impacted by the earthquakes in Syria in February 2023.

Syria 2023 © Omar Haj Kadour

Abdulbari Atmeh


“We were woken up in the middle of the night. Everyone started running from their homes and shouting in the street. In this village, the houses are old, so many have collapsed. Help arrived quickly and we started to [dig out] survivors from under the rubble. Now people live on the streets, in tents or [under] trees.”

Abdurrahman Can


“I lost my daughter-in-law and my grandchild. I kept my grandchild’s body in the car for two days until we could finally find his mother’s body and bury them both. We didn't even have a shroud. We wrapped them with a blanket. We paid a price, we lost lives, we lost a lot of property […] Everyone is stressed, but we are trying to recover. We are here as a family, trying to hold on to life. Now, at least we know that someone is listening to us.”

An older man standing on the rubble that is left of his home after it was destroyed in the earthquakes in Turkey.

Türkiye 2023 © Mariana Abdalla/MSF

MSF response to the earthquakes through Atmeh Hospital

Syria 2023 © Abdul Majeed Al Qareh

Dr. Samih Kaddour

Director of Aqrabat hospital, Syria

“All the hospitals were overwhelmed, including ours. MSF teams were the first to help us and to share their resources. They gave us materials, including supplies for making casts and sterilizing wounds. We received 800 people in the emergency room, 250 of whom needed surgical treatment."

Sherwan Qasem

Syrian MSF emergency officer based in Amsterdam

“One of the biggest needs now is mental health. Imagine if you are living in a camp, in a tent, in a makeshift house, after maybe many years of conflict without any kind of hope for what may happen tomorrow? The mental health burden is severe. Yesterday my mother said to me: ‘My son, I don't know what may happen tomorrow. Every year for 12 years we have hoped that this would be the last year of our suffering.’”

Aisha Harbalieh

MSF midwife supervisor in Azaz, Syria

“My neighbor was screaming. She’s a mother of two and her husband wasn’t around. My husband picked up her son and we helped her get out. Our neighbors on the upper floors threw their kids down for us to catch them. One man had seen the bodies of his wife, kids, and parents brought out from under the rubble. He couldn’t handle it and was in a state of shock. He couldn’t grasp that his whole family had been buried under the rubble. Every half an hour, we received another member of his family: his son, his father, then his brothers. He lost more than 13 family members. At midnight, there was a call for an orthopedist [a surgeon specialized in injuries to the musculoskeletal system] to amputate the foot of a girl who was trapped under the rubble... The girl was crying, ‘Don’t worry about my foot, save me without my foot—just get me out of here. It’s dark and I’m scared!’”


MSF health educator in Ghouta, Syria

“I’m still shocked. I can’t come to terms with what happened. My husband's friend's family all died except for one girl. We visited her in the hospital. She told us how they gathered in one place, [then] she headed to the door with her brother. Their younger sister followed them. She told me how the roof fell on top of her father, killing him; how her father said his last words and passed away.”

MSF Alert Winter 2023: The year in photos

Alert Winter 2023: The year in photos

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