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After an earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday, killing more than 7,000 people, a group of Uyghur volunteers in Istanbul quickly responded, driving 24 hours to assist in relief efforts.

A key goal of the 30-member team was to help Uyghur refugees affected by the disaster. Many Uyghurs who have fled China’s crackdown on them in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region – which Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan – have resettled in Turkey, where linguistic, cultural and religious similarities make for an easier transition.

The team was sent “to show that the East Turkestan people and Turkish people are together in thick and thin,” said Hidayettullah Oghuzhan, chairman of the Union of East Turkestan Organizations in Istanbul. 

The 7.8 magnitude quake hit the Turkish cities of Gaziantep, Osmaniye, Hatay, and Kahramanmaras and the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Idlib around 4:00 AM on Feb. 6. 


The Uyghur Rescue Team traveled from Istanbul to Kahramanmaras, Turkey, to provide assistance. Credit: Uyghur Rescue Team

Officials said that more than 8,000 people had died in Turkey alone, with more than 22,000 injured. He said that around 8,000 had been rescued from the collapsed buildings, and declared a state of emergency across ten cities for three months. 

Nearly 3,000 deaths were reported in both government and rebel-held areas in Syria, although rescue organizations highlighted the difficulty of confirming casualties there. 

The rescue team was focusing its rescue efforts in the area around the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.

A rescue team member told RFA that they rescued 11 Uyghur women and 12 children from the rubble, putting them “on the same van [the rescue team] came with and sent them to Istanbul,” said Merdan Uyghur, one of the rescue team members.

“The people here need a lot of assistance. So we provided the food and water we brought with us,” he said. “The local people were really happy to hear that we were Uyghurs coming to help them.”

Uyghur women and children are evacuated from Kahramanmaras to Istanbul, Turkey, by the Uyghur Rescue Team. Members of the team remained in Kahramanmaras to help with the earthquake relief efforts. Credit: Uyghur Rescue Team

“Most buildings in Kahramanmaras collapsed,” he said. “Many people have lost their dwelling places. It is cold and snowing. They need food, drinks, blankets, and tents.”

The Istanbul-based World Uyghur Congress Foundation called on Uyghurs in Turkey to donate blood to assist with relief efforts, with Foundation Chair Abdureshit Abdulhamit donating his blood at the Red Crescent Blood Center to encourage other Uyghurs.

Translated by Alim Seytoff. Edited by Nawar Nemeh. 

This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Arslan Tash for RFA Uyghur.