On February 6th, Türkiye and Syria were struck by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that left tens of thousands dead and injured, including hundreds of teachers, support staff, academics and other education workers. Hundreds of schools were destroyed, as well as several education union buildings in both countries, and the education of millions of students has been severely disrupted. People living in the affected areas struggle to meet their most basic needs, such as food, water, and hygiene. Legal support, health, and psychosocial support are sorely needed.
International solidarity and local solidarity played a crucial role in responding to this tragedy. Education International’s member organisations in Syria (Union of Teachers of Northeast Syria) and Türkiye ( Eğitim Sen) have been present from the first hours of the crisis to help their members and the affected communities.
In response to the earthquakes, the government of Türkiye declared a state of emergency but unfortunately, they also used these powers to suspend in-person education in the most affected areas, going against the recommendation of educators and education unions. They also made it compulsory to channel any humanitarian aid through a special government institution, which severely impedes the actions of the trade unions.
In the case of Syria, the earthquake had a devastating impact in an area ravaged by war. This situation complicated and delayed the arrival and distribution of humanitarian aid. Furthermore, the area’s infrastructure, hospitals, and first response capabilities have been decimated by 12 years of bombings and attacks.
The Executive Board of Education International, meeting on 14-16 March 2023:
- Expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria and stands in solidarity with education workers and unionists who continue to suffer from its consequences.;
- Calls for international solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria to help in the recovery efforts;
- Calls on EI member organisations to express their solidarity with our sister organisations in Türkiye and Syria and continue to help them respond to the devastation and as they rebuild.
The Executive Board further urges the Government of Türkiye to:
- Recognise and support the role of public services as first responders, and work with education unions and other public service unions as they respond to the disaster;
- Ensure the right to education of all students by reopening schools and universities without delay and give priority to education in the recovery and reconstruction efforts;
- Engage in meaningful dialogue with teachers, academics, and all education workers through their representative organisations, and consult them when making decisions on education issues;
- Refrain from using the ‘emergency powers' to suspend the right to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and peaceful assembly;
- Ensure payment of the salaries and benefits of teachers and education workers.
- Take the necessary measures to meet the psychosocial needs of students and teachers affected by the catastrophe.
The Executive Board urges the Government of Syria to:
• Facilitate the arrival and distribution of humanitarian aid to the affected areas without delay.
The Executive Board also reiterates its call to peace in the area as a humanitarian crisis cannot be fully addressed without conflict resolution.
Eğitim Sen's Osman Işçi on his union's actions after the earthquakes: