In the first few days after the earthquake that devastated southern Turkey and northwestern Syria in early February, only vehicles carrying the dead bodies of Syrian refugees crossed the Turkish border into Syria—not aid and equipment to rescue people from the rubble of collapsed buildings, not vitally needed medical supplies, not temporary shelters to protect the frightened and injured from the extreme cold. These were naturally the most crucial days for search-and-rescue efforts, but it was left to the understaffed and underequipped teams of volunteer first responders in the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, to try to save lives in a region home to some 4.6 million people, 2.9 million of them displaced from other parts of Syria. The White Helmets rescued nearly 3,000 people, but how many more would they have been able to save if they had received any international help in those critical first days?
With the earthquake a month ago, Syria was in the news again, briefly. The international community—if one really exists—has for years passively dealt with the Syrian crisis as if it were a natural disaster, and it didn’t change course when a real one struck. Three days after the earthquake, the United Nations said that a convoy of aid had finally crossed the Turkish border to the most affected area in northwestern Syria, giving the impression that this came as a response to the earthquake. That was a cowardly lie. The convoy, with food and other subsistence, was one of the few sent regularly by the U.N. from Turkey into northwestern Syria through a single border crossing, but it had been delayed because of the earthquake. It took three more days before Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s aid chief, admitted, in a tweet: “We have so far failed the people in north-west Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.” It was unforgivably late. People whose homes collapsed over their heads and might have been alive under the rubble died while the U.N.’s top official for humanitarian assistance was wringing his hands. [Continue reading…]