Children who survived the earthquake live with trauma: “Dad, are we going to die?” | World and Science

Children from Syria and Turkey deal with trauma after devastating earthquake that killed 35,000AFP

Posted 14/02/2023 09:43 | Updated 2/14/2023 11:24 AM

Serkan Tatoglu managed to save his four children from the violent earthquake that destroyed their home in southeastern Turkey. The family is now safe, but the six-year-old daughter keeps asking, “Daddy, are we going to die?”

Kahramanmaras province — with a population of 1.1 million before the earthquake — has had the air of an apocalypse movie in recent weeks, with collapsed buildings, the sound of ambulance sirens and coffins placed by the roadside.

These are terrifying scenes for the children who survived the February 6 earthquake that left 32,000 dead in Turkey, according to another provisional toll.

“My children were seriously affected by the earthquake,” Serkan Tatoglu, whose wife and children, aged 6, 11, 14 and 15, told AFP to take refuge in a cluster of tents erected next to a stadium in the city. Kahramanmaras.

“I lost ten members of my family. My children don’t know it, but the youngest is injured from the aftershocks of the earthquake. She keeps asking me, ‘Dad, are we going to die?'” she says. “I don’t want to show them their bodies. My wife and I hugged them and said everything will get better,” he adds.

Hilal Ayar, 25, is very worried about her seven-year-old son, Mohamed Emir: “He’s not well mentally, he can’t sleep.”

Sueda Deveci, a psychologist at the Turkish branch of the NGO Doctors Worldwide, sent to Kahramanmaras, is working with the parents, who are also traumatized. “A mother confessed to me: ‘Everyone should be strong, but I can’t do anything, I can’t take care of my children, I can’t even eat.’

Some children still seem oblivious to the earthquake, he says, while three of them draw alongside him. “I don’t talk much about the earthquake with them. We get them to draw and we’ll see to what extent that carries over into their drawings,” he explains.

“Child-centered policies need to be created urgently,” urged Esin Koman, a child rights expert now working in Kahramanmaras province.

According to her, minors adapt faster than their parents, but you have to do whatever it takes to pass this test.

Psychologist Cihan Celik shared on Twitter a message he received from a volunteer ambulance driver sent to the earthquake zone.

During the withdrawal, many children were overcome with anxiety. “The injured children asked many times along the way, ‘Where’s mom, where’s dad?’ Are you kidnapping us?”

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said 574 children rescued from collapsed buildings were found unaccompanied. About 76 were handed over to family members.

A team of about 200 volunteers, including psychologists, lawyers and doctors, set up coordination centers in the ten provinces devastated by the earthquake. The aim is to identify unaccompanied children and hand them over to their families, with the help of the police.

“We received thousands of calls,” says Hatice Goz, a volunteer at the coordination center in Hatay province (south).

It contacts families looking for their children, obtains information about their age, physical characteristics and housing, before informing the coordination centers.

“We have teams specialized in this. They permanently analyze all the information received, comparing it with hospital records,” says Hatice Goz.

“When I saw the list yesterday, the number of missing children we were informed about reached 180. And we have handed over 30 to their families,” he adds.

The children were pulled alive from the ruins and taken to the nearest hospitals, without necessarily being accompanied by a family member. But he emphasizes, “if the child still does not speak, the family cannot find him”.

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