Oxford students and colleges respond to earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Colleges and students affiliated with the University of Oxford have supported efforts to respond to an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude affecting Syria and Turkey.

The earthquake has resulted in a death toll of more than 38,000 and has been called Europe’s worst natural disaster in 100 years. There are also growing concerns over sub-zero temperatures, sanitation issues and hygiene which could impede Syria and Turkey’s recovery from the disaster. In Turkey, more than 1 million people have been displaced, with 5 million potential displacements in Syria. Issues in Syria have also been exacerbated by more than a decade of civil war, which has already resulted in significant internal displacement. Rebel-occupied areas of Syria are also encountering difficulty in receiving aid.

Susan Brown, leader of the Oxford City Council, and Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities, expressed ‘shock and sorrow’ over the ‘devastating’ earthquake. The pair stated that their ‘thoughts [were] with the Turkish and Syrian people and all those delivering the emergency response’ as well as ‘Turkish and Syrian communities in Oxford, who will be anxious about their family, friends and compatriots’.

Somerville College and Wadham College issued statements in support of humanitarian efforts to respond to the earthquake. Somerville College stated that a ‘way we can all help is to contribute towards the relief efforts’, asking students to consider donating to charities endorsed by Salma Daoudi, Vice President of the University’s Arab Society, and Süleyman Selim Çınaroğlu, a member of the college’s MCR. Wadham College stated that ‘thoughts and sympathy’ were with those affected by the disaster. Mert Ayik, a first-year Law student at the College, commented on behalf of a group of Turkish students who collectively listed ‘reliable NGOs and initiatives which individuals might consider donating to’. The Queen’s College also shared a link to a JustGiving page in support of recovery efforts that was later removed.

The Oxford Student also learned that The Queen’s College donated £1000 to AFAD. St John’s College donated £300 to AKUT and £300 to Ahbap. Magdalen College’s MCR also increased prices for drinks and brunch, with the additional profits donated to the British Red Cross.

Students and student-led societies have also been involved in efforts to provide aid. İpek Şahbazoğlu, Hazal Bulut, Suat Baris and İrem Kaki organised a bake sale which ran from the 11th to the 13th of February in Radcliffe Square and raised over £9000. 20 people in total were involved in providing baked goods for sale and managing the stand throughout various shifts. Some of the funds raised from the bake sale were designated for the Syrian charity White Helmets, which helps to distribute aid to rebel-controlled areas of Syria.

The Oxford Turkish Society also established a GoFundMe page which has raised more than £11,000 and the society will be collecting donations in the Oxford Union chamber on the 16th of February during a debate on Scottish independence. The society also promoted the student-led bake sale on social media. The Oxford University Islamic Society coordinated an emergency bake sale outside the Robert Hooke Building on Friday the 10th of February.

İpek Şahbazoğlu, one of the organisers of the student bake sale, commented that ‘I think I can speak for all of us when I say we are a bit disappointed in the support we receive from our colleges and the University. Funding-wise, they have been really generous, but to get it was a push. But in terms of recognising our distress and the justifiable disruption to our academic focus, not really.’

Şahbazoğlu did not have immediate family members affected by the disaster, but close family friends had still not heard from relatives and many of her friends had family that had been affected. However, she commented that ‘it’s not a matter of who you are related to or know. I think that’s what we’re all disappointed over, as our distress is being dismissed as soon as we say our immediate family is fine. There’s a lot of guilt for us, as we can technically continue our studies uninterrupted when our friends in Turkey don’t have that opportunity. Universities and schools are shut and being used as temporary accommodation for the affected.’

Arda Battalgazi, President of the Oxford University Turkish Society, commented that ‘the Turkish community at Oxford is devastated – many have friends and family directly affected by the disaster. We’re doing everything we can to fundraise and help them during this difficult time’.

Quotes and comments have been edited for clarity.

This article was amended to reflect St John’s College donating £600 rather than £1200 and to two different charities.