Universities mobilise resources to help quake victims

Turkish and Syrian universities suspended exams and classes and joined forces to mobilise resources and personnel after more than 3,600 people had been killed, and more than 14,000 injured, on Monday, according to AFP, in twin earthquakes that struck south-eastern Turkiye and north-west Syria, reaching a magnitude of 7.7.

By late on Thursday the death toll across both countries had reached almost 20,000 according to media reports and was expected to rise further.

It was the most powerful earthquake recorded in Turkiye since 1939, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Turkish government has called for urgent international assistance.

The quake was followed hours later by a powerful aftershock so strong that it was felt throughout the Middle East region including Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

Students among those trapped

Media reports indicated that an unspecified number of Turkish and foreign students from various universities could still be among those trapped under the rubble, missing and injured in Turkiye.

A number of student associations across the world have issued helpline numbers to assist their students in Turkiye, including, for example, Jammu and Kashmir Students Association.

The University of Genoa in Italy issued a statement to “express sympathy and solidarity with the university community and the people of Turkey and Syria as a whole for the tragedy of the catastrophic earthquake that struck violently in their areas, devastating them”.

The Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK) issued a statement on 6 February saying education was suspended until further notice in Turkish higher education institutions in the provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adana, Malatya, Adiyaman, Hatay, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Kilis and Osmaniye, which were affected by the Kahramanmaras-centered earthquake.

“Students living in this region and studying at universities in other provinces will be provided necessary assistance for exams and attendance between 6-17 February 2023,” the statement said.

University hospitals made available

“The sixth-year medical students and fifth-year dentistry students of the universities in the mentioned provinces are not subject to the decision,” YÖK added.

“The emergency and intensive care units of our university hospitals in the region and surrounding provinces are open to the service of our citizens, and necessary measures have been taken to increase their capacity,” the statement said.

YÖK said that after the completion of a damage assessment on the campuses where its higher education institutions are located in these provinces, a new statement would be made regarding the start of education.

“In addition, our citizens whose houses were damaged in the provinces affected by the earthquake will be provided with university facilities under the coordination of the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD),” the statement added.

“We grieve for those who lost their lives in the earthquake and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded,” YÖK said.

National Education Minister Mahmut Özer also said all schools in Turkiye would be closed until 13 February, according to the official Facebook page of the Ministry of National Education of Turkey.

Syrian university hospitals readied

The Syrian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) issued a statement on 6 February saying: “Since the first moments of the earthquake that struck Syria today, which caused a number of victims and damaged a number of areas in the Syrian governorates, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has raised readiness in Aleppo, Tishreen and Al-Baath university hospitals, especially the ambulance system and operations departments of all kinds in order to receive the wounded and injured to provide the necessary medical treatments in the presence of medical, technical and nursing cadres.”

MHESR was continuously following up all developments with university hospitals, MHESR’s statement indicated.

The students’ housing units were also inspected in each of the university cities of Aleppo, Latakia and Hama to check on the conditions of the students and the buildings, and to check the placement of all volunteer teams and student units in all governorates to provide aid and assistance to the population affected by the earthquake, in coordination with the National Union of Syrian Students, MHESR said.

MHESR liaised with the university presidents to coordinate postponement of exams scheduled for government universities this week to a later date, and shut down universities for the week.

In response, Syrian universities announced the postponement of exams, among them the University of Hama, Al Andalus University for Medical Sciences, Al Sham Private University, the University of Aleppo, Tishreen University and AlFourat University, according to a Facebook page for Syrian Universities.

Students launch blood donation campaigns

The National Union of Syrian Students (NUSS) has launched blood donation campaigns in all blood transfusion centres and hospitals in coordination with branches of universities, institutes and relevant departments in hospitals and health facilities to quickly respond to need.

NUSS called upon all medical teams, medical postgraduate students and units in university hospitals and health centres to voluntarily provide immediate help to the injured.

“We call upon all doctors and medical students to join immediately to provide aid and assistance to hospitals and health centres, and coordinate with branches and bodies of the union for any inquiries around the clock,” NUSS said in a statement issued on the day of the quakes.

Universities join the public response

In response to NUSS’s statement, Al-Hawash Private University has launched a relief campaign in solidarity with the people affected by the earthquakes which impacted multiple regions in Syria. The drive includes fundraising along with the collection of food, medicine and blankets as well as free medical treatment for injured people.

The University of Aleppo has also formed a volunteer medical rescue and a medical aid team to work on rescue or humanitarian evacuation over the entire area of the city of Aleppo.

In addition, Alsham Private University in Latakia has opened its doors to host families affected by the earthquake and also launched a campaign to collect winter clothes for families who have lost their homes and belongings as a result of the earthquake that has affected Syria.

Tishreen University also launched a relief operation, helping to remove rubble in Latakia Governorate.

“University students are playing vital roles in supporting local communities to cope with [the] earthquake disasters with a sense of social responsibility as citizens,” Darine Suleiman, the president of the National Union of Syrian Students, told AR TV on Monday.

“The role of universities in disaster management includes not only relief and support for the affected communities in order to link student activities with concerns about the society in which they live through volunteerism, but also disaster education and research,” Suleiman said.