UNHCR launches emergency airlift to eastern Turkey

Briefing Notes, 28 October 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 28 October 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In response to the Turkish Red Crescent's appeal for help on Tuesday, the first of four UNHCR humanitarian flights for the victims of the devastating earthquake in eastern Turkey is scheduled to land in Erzurum this evening (Friday, 28 October). The Ilyushin-76 cargo plane will bring 37 metric tons of UNHCR relief items from our emergency stockpile in Dubai. The next three flights are scheduled to touch down in Erzurum on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Each flight will be carrying approximately 500 tents and 10,000 blankets. Together with resources we already have in Turkey, our immediate emergency relief response for the victims of earthquake amounts to 4,000 tents, 50,000 blankets and 10,000 sleeping mats. The supplies arriving by plane will be loaded onto trucks and taken immediately to Van and surrounding areas for distribution. Our response is part of a concerted effort by the UN country team.

The full impact of the earthquake is still being assessed. The city of Van alone has a population of more than 400,000 people and many of them lost homes. Hundreds of buildings collapsed and thousands of others have been rendered uninhabitable. The shelter needs are great. In addition to more than 25,000 tents already distributed by the authorities, the Turkish government has appealed for 40,000 winterized tents and 40,000 transitional shelters.

UNHCR has been present in Van since 1995. At the time the earthquake struck on Sunday our field teams were assisting more than 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers living in the area. At present we have no reports about casualties among these two groups but many have lost accommodation and belongings. Our staff, who volunteered to stay in Van, are working closely with the Turkish authorities who are leading the search and rescue as well as the overall relief effort.

To support the relief efforts of the authorities our operation in Turkey is deploying additional protection teams to Van tomorrow to counsel refugees and asylum seekers on how to access relief assistance and to identify any special needs they may have including the possibility of relocation for the most vulnerable or for those with particular medical needs.

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