People Over Policy: The Effect of Political Sanctions on the Turkey-Syria Earthquake

A satellite photograph of the aftermath of the Turkey-Syria earthquake on Feb. 6. The Turkey-Syria earthquake has killed and injured thousands of citizens and continues to cause devastation (Photo via Wikimedia Commons).

I was walking home from class when I first started receiving calls from family and friends, the one still reverberating in my head being the voicemail from my father. 

“It’s happening again,” he said. 

That could’ve meant anything, ranging from him accidentally purchasing the wrong brand of toothpaste, to realizing he was in the midst of yet another midlife crisis. However, one look at my news feed shifted all the fragmented pieces in my mind into a full, all the more terrifying, illustration. In case you’re confused, my dad and a large portion of my family are from Syria. Even though the country seems to be a hotspot for international news, it’s hard to grow numb even with the continuous coverage. 

Days later, I still find myself going back to the CNN article that started it all. 

“More than 15,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey and Syria on Monday,” said the website. Within a day, thousands of buildings collapsed, leaving over 4 million people relying on humanitarian aid.

According to CNN’s daily update, as of Monday, More than 36,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured.”

I’d like to pause and say that it is obvious that, with every natural disaster, there are negative impacts. However, this is almost always countered by citizens and humanitarian organizations rallying to provide assistance. A majority of those pleas are answered as the world comes together to remind us all that humanity is good at its core. 

Syria is still waiting. 

Although Turkey has been fortunate enough to receive assistance from both the United Nations and other foreign governments, those same institutions are denying aid to Syria. It’s not because they’re out of supplies or the thousands of other excuses that mirror other natural disaster responses. Rather, it’s because policies have gained precedence over people.

While continuous aid has been requested by the Syrian government, only a small fraction has been sent. This can be attributed to the lack of diplomatic relations between President Bashar al-Assad and the United States government. U.S. sanctions — which date back to 1979 — make it extremely difficult to send supplies to the disaster-ridden country. Furthermore, al-Assad continues to refuse to work with foreign governments or other factions over the last few days. Even before tragedy befell the country, sending money to my family took days. I can’t imagine the process of sending material goods. 

It is infuriating that either country refuses to budge while innocent civilians lay dying in the streets, the death toll rising by the hour. 

The Syrian people don’t care about politics – they just want to survive. 

Although I’m no expert on sanctions – my main source of news being bite-sized videos interlaced with the occasional snippet of cats being cute or the newest style trend – Xavier Castellanos certainly is. 

Castellanos is the under-secretary-general for national society development and operations coordination, and his job is to ensure that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies supports the humanitarian community. In turn, the IFRC acts “before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people.” 

Castellanos said during a news conference on Thursday that limitations like sanctions affect the speed of intervention. Furthermore, it affects ways of allocating financial resources and entering the country itself. 

I fully believe that politics are an important part of worldly relations and conflict drives change, but none of this should be used as an excuse to disregard the plight of Syrians affected by the earthquake.  In fact, it’s disheartening to think that it took a massive tragedy for governments to discuss the continuously war-torn country –– let alone think about it. 

I’m not entirely sure when it was decided that the actions of a government should equal the actions of those living under it. But, until governments stop reaching for power and instead reach for humanity, the tragedy will never end.

About Killian Altayeb 25 Articles
Killian Altayeb is from Novi, Michigan and is a second-year student at Albion College. They are a Biochemistry Major with a journalistic interest in all things public health. Contact Killian via email at

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