Survivors of the Turkey earthquake are living in fear on the streets.

Songul Yucesoy washes her dishes with care, soaping the plates and cutlery before rinsing away the bubbles and laying them out to dry. Except she’s outside, sitting in the shadow of her ruined house, it’s an unremarkable scene.

It’s leaning dangerously, the window frames are dangling, and a large chunk of the rusted iron roof is now resting in the garden.

It has been a month since the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, with officials estimating 45,968 deaths in Turkey alone. More than 6,000 people have been killed in Syria.

Those who have survived are facing an uncertain future. One of their most pressing issues is finding a safe place to live. At least 1.5 million people are currently homeless, and it is unclear how long it will take to find them suitable housing.

Meanwhile, the Turkish disaster agency Afad reports that nearly two million people have left the quake zone. Some are staying with friends or family members in other parts of the country. Those who want to leave the region can take free flights and trains.

But in Samandag, near the Mediterranean coast, Songul is adamant that she and her family are not leaving. “This is extremely important to us. We’ll stay here no matter what happens next, even if the house falls down. This is our nest, our home. We have everything we need. We’re not going anywhere.”

An earthquake caused damage to a property in the Turkish town of Samandag.
Caption for an image,
The devastating earthquake destroyed property in the area, displacing thousands of people.
Tents have sprouted up all over Samandag, from sprawling new encampments to individual ones strewn among the rubble.
Tents have sprouted up all over Samandag, but more are desperately needed.
Precious furniture has been carefully removed from the house and placed outside. A holiday souvenir, a picture made of shells from the Turkish resort of Kusadasi, sits atop a polished wooden side table. There’s a bowl of fruit, and a large orange has white mould on it. Things that appear normal indoors appear strange and out of place on the street.

The entire family is currently living in three tents just a few steps away from their damaged home. They sleep and eat there, cooking their meals on a small camping stove. There is no proper toilet, though they have recovered one from the bathroom and are attempting to install it in an improvised wooden shed. They’ve even built a small shower. However, everything is very basic, and the lack of space and privacy is obvious. These tents are suffocatingly small and overcrowded.

Songul has had a difficult month. The earthquake killed seventeen of their relatives. Tulay, her sister, is officially missing. “We don’t know if she’s still under there,” she says. “We don’t know if her body has been removed yet. We’re just waiting. We cannot begin to lament. We can’t even find our misplaced one.”

A young girl takes a seat on a train.
Caption for an image,
In the port city of Iskenderun, people are sleeping on train seats.
Songul’s brother-in-law Husemettin and 11-year-old nephew Lozan were killed when their Iskenderun flat building collapsed while they were sleeping. We went to see what was left of their house, which was a sprawling pile of twisted debris. Neighbors informed us that three flat buildings had collapsed.

“Lozan’s body was brought here,” Songul says quietly. “We took him from the mortuary and buried him in Samandag, close to us. Husemettin was buried in the anonymous cemetery, and we discovered his name there.”

Tulay’s still-active Facebook profile features a photo of the family, arms around each other, faces close. Lozan clutches a red balloon.

The quake-caused homelessness crisis is so severe because there are so few safe spaces left standing. Over 160,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), at least 1.5 million people remain inside the quake zone but have nowhere to live. It’s difficult to know the true figure, which could be much higher.

The arrival of study cabins is slow. Tents have sprouted up all over the place, from sprawling new encampments to individual ones strewn among the rubble. There are still not enough. The news that the Turkish Red Crescent had sold some of its stock of taxpayer-funded tents to a charity group – albeit at a loss – sparked outrage and frustration.

People are still living in public buildings in some cities.

Songul Yucesoy (centre) is now homeless and eats in front of a tent.
Image caption by ANNA FOSTER/BBC
Weeks after the disaster, families are sharing tents.
I met families sleeping on blankets and mattresses spread across a volleyball court in Adana. They have made their home on two trains parked at the railway station in the port city of Iskenderun. Seats have been converted into beds, luggage racks have been filled with personal belongings, and the staff works hard to keep things clean and tidy. One young girl’s eyes well up with tears as she hugs a pillow instead of a teddy bear. This is not my home.

Songul’s children are also struggling. Toys and games are confined to dangerous homes, and there is no school. “They’re bored because there’s nothing to keep them occupied. They just sit there. They play with their phones and then go to bed early when the battery dies.”

Things become even more difficult as night falls. There is currently no electricity in Samandag. Songul has strung bright solar lights across their white tent, just above the UNHCR logo. They are not refugees, but they are homeless in their own country and have lost everything.

Songul Yucesoy cries
Songul says her family now lives in fear, with aftershocks keeping them awake at night.
“I put the lamps here so they could be seen,” Songul says. “When it gets dark, we get scared. Powerlessness is a major issue. The terror is overwhelming, and the aftershocks keep us awake all night, making it difficult to sleep.” She begins to cry and wipes her tears away with her hand.

“We are free people; we are used to freedom, independence, and everyone living in their own homes,” her husband, Savas, adds. “But now we’re three families eating in one tent, living in one tent, and sitting in one tent.”

“This is all new to us, and we have no idea what the future holds. And then there’s the fear. What will happen now that our houses have collapsed? We simply don’t know.”

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