A candlelight vigil was held by members of Calgary’s Turkish and Syrian communities over the weekend for the tens of thousands killed in the Feb. 6 earthquakes.
Speaking to members of those communities at the McDougall Centre on Sunday, Minister for Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism Rajan Sawhney promised support from the Alberta government for victims and their families.
Details on that support is due to come later this week, she said. There will be a meeting with Premier Danielle Smith and her UCP cabinet colleagues.
“I know that there has been a precedent for supports in the past. So that will play a part in the discussion, but certainly I don’t want to say anything that’s premature at this point as I do need to discuss this with the Premier,” Minister Sawhney said.
“The Government of Alberta stands with members from Turkey and Syria, and as we further our discussions tomorrow, and in the coming days, I’ll have more to say about that.”
The Federal government announced on February 8, up to $10 million in humanitarian aid for Turkey and Syria by matching donations made to the Red Cross, alongside the more than $50 million in humanitarian aid budgeted to Syria for 2023.
Chestermere-Strathmore MLA and former UCP leader candidate Leela Aheer also attended the vigil.
She said that she would also be speaking to her caucus counterparts to ensure that the Alberta Government provides aid to the stricken nations. The most important things that Albertans can do to help will come from outside of government, she said.
“We need to work collaboratively with the nonprofits and other organizations,” Aheer said.
“It’s one thing for us to bring forward money to put into that… but you need to go through the right lines to make sure that those dollars are being facilitated as needed, because it’s easy for for us to assume we’re doing the right thing.”
She wants to ensure those with the deepest understanding of the current situation in Turkey and Syria are at the table to shape the government’s response.
Vigil held to mourn, and to bring awareness of tragedy
The death toll from the earthquakes which struck southern Turkey and northern Syria has surpassed 35,000 people, according to reports from the Associated Press.
AP reported that death toll is likely to rise, as relief efforts have been hampered by the extent of the devastation and the difficult winter weather.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, was quoted as saying the death toll from the crisis was likely to exceed 50,000.
Mohamad Awada, the Calgary organizer for Sunday’s vigil, said they wanted to raise awareness of the tragedy.
“A lot of people, for example, maybe are not following on a daily basis what’s happening, and the updates that are taking place in Turkey and in Syria. Especially in northern Syria,” Awada said.
Awada said he was emphasising that people can help directly through the Red Cross and the matching funds from the Government of Canada.
“We know that the situation in Syria is like way harsher than in Turkey for so many reasons. A lot of my friends that are students from Allepo [Syria] have families there, and have community members that have been sending money on a daily basis,” he said.
Relief efforts to Syria have been hampered by the difficulty in passing the border from Turkey into the rebel-held region of Northern Syria most affected by the quakes.
Authorization to cross that border, which requires a UN Security Council vote, has been stymied by Russia’s refusal to allow more than a single access point.
“The help is hopefully getting there through the community members that are trying their best efforts for that.” Awada said.
“Our Turkish community members have been already collecting materials donations and shipping to Turkey.”
Donations can be made to the Canadian Red Cross at www.redcross.ca/donate/appeal/earthquake-in-turkiye-and-syria-appeal.