Sabah Gülensoy was on a dream holiday through New Zealand when she got a message from her friends back home in Türkiye - an earthquake had hit, their home had collapsed, and they were trapped inside.

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake had hit the south of Türkiye and north of Syria.

“I knew this would be a terrible situation. The civil engineering in Türkiye is not good, we don’t have the right buildings for these earthquakes.”

“When I saw how bad the earthquake was, I knew we would lose many people - thousands of people.”

Internet and phone lines were badly damaged making it difficult to contact her friends in the worst affected area.

It took a day to contact everyone and find out that while her friends had survived, one had lost their mum and dad, another their sister and mum, and many were still trapped within the buildings that had collapsed around them.

Sabah (centre) with two of her friends who live in the heavily-impacted Hatay province in Türkiye. Her friend on the left lost his house, and the one on the right's parents are still trapped in their collapsed building. Photo: supplied.

Sabah said every one of her friends had lost their homes, and for those stuck in the streets with nowhere to go, their lives were quickly becoming endangered too.

“It is the middle of winter right now, the temperature is around -5C, and it is often snowing or raining.”

“They have no clothes, not enough blankets, no fuel or generators, and food and water are running low.

“There is very little hope. How can people survive in these conditions?”

The situation in Türkiye and Syria

The earthquake struck at 4am local time on Monday February 6.

As of writing, there are 9,057 confirmed deaths in Türkiye and 2,992 in Syria - totalling 12,049 people.

The World Health Organisation said the earthquake has impacted around 23 million people and they are anticipating the total number of deaths could be over 20,000.

Türkiye has reports of more than 11,000 collapsed buildings.

So far more than 8,000 people have been pulled from debris.

Desperate to help

Sabah said she and fellow Turkish and Syrian people in New Zealand have been looking for any possible way to help.

She immediately sent all the money she had to her friends in Türkiye, cancelled her trip, and began looking for work in order to send more money.

The Turkish community in New Zealand rallied straight away she said, reaching out to each other and creating fundraising pages.

One of these was created by Izel Çelik, who like Sabah has been desperately trying to find ways to help people back home.

Izel said New Zealand is in a powerful position to help, because the New Zealand dollar is worth so much more right now than the Turkish.

“The Turkish economy was in a bad way even before Covid, and was only getting worse. And this will make things even harder.”

$10 in New Zealand is currently worth almost 120 in Turkish lira.

“Just $10 or $20 would make a huge difference right now because of the state of our economy.”

Both Sabah and Izel said they don’t trust the Turkish government to use relief funding effectively, pointing to a disaster relief tax that was established in 1999 in Türkiye they both believe was not properly used to prepare or respond to this scenario.

They have decided to instead donate money to an independent relief organisation called AHBAP that they say has transparently used donated funds to respond to past disasters in the region.

The New Zealand Government has committed $1.5 million to disaster relief in Türkiye and Syria.

Sabah hoped the New Zealand Government would look at other ways to support, such as creating a temporary visa for Turkish people to live and work in New Zealand, allowing them to raise money to send home and support the recovery efforts.

Re: News reached out to Syrian people in New Zealand to get their insight into the situation in Syria but did not manage to connect with anyone by time of publication. We will update this article when we do.

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