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Infrastructure built to help refugees from war, now helps quake refugees in Turkey


Thousands of earthquake survivors from Turkey and Syria have relocated to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa. Residents there know a lot about helping displaced people resettle. They've done it for a decade by providing relief for refugees from the Syrian civil war. NPR's Fatma Tanis reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

ZEYNEP KIZILELMA: (Non-English language spoken).

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: In a bus garage that the city has turned into an aid center, workers sort through canned foods and grains, piles of blankets and mattresses and package them for families. Zeynep Kizilelma is overseeing the assembly, and she reads out from a list.

KIZILELMA: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: "This family needs two blankets, one kitchen set, a hygiene set, one food box and diapers," she says. After checking the list, she tells the aid workers to load it all onto the truck.

KIZILELMA: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: This city had its own wounds in the earthquake. At least 200 people died here and 3,000 buildings severely damaged. But it was much better off than others nearby, and that's why thousands of families from other cities have relocated here. More than a month after the earthquake, there's still heavy relief work.

ALI ALTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: Ali Altin, who's in charge of the distribution center, is fielding calls. He's worked in aid relief since 2012. Then it was for Syrian war refugees who came to Turkey by the millions. He sees some similarities with the work today.

ALTIN: (Through interpreter) Families who have never wanted for anything before in their lives are suddenly in need of a single diaper, and you can sense they don't know how to tell you what they need and are almost apologetic for asking.

TANIS: So workers need to be sensitive and comforting.

ALTIN: (Through interpreter) There's an adage in Sanliurfa. You have a place above our heads, we say, and they immediately relax, like they are our guests. And, of course, we will provide what they need.

TANIS: We hop on an aid truck with Zeynep Kizilelma. Along the way, we pass heavily damaged buildings and tent camps.

KIZILELMA: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: Our first stop is 76-year-old Bahri Durmus. He opened his small home to some 40 friends and relatives from neighboring city Adiyaman. His relief is palpable as he receives a box of food.

BAHRI DURMUS: (Through interpreter) God help them. I lost so many friends in Adiyaman, including one of my relatives who lost 18 people in his family. Another friend of mine lost his entire family, his wife and children.

TANIS: The next stop is a Syrian refugee family who have been living here in Sanliurfa, but their home has been heavily damaged. So they need blankets and warm clothes for sleeping in tents. But this is just the beginning of what people will need, according to Ibrahim Karatume, who heads the Department of Immigration and Integration Services at the municipality.

IBRAHIM KARATUME: (Through interpreter) What a decade of war did to Syria in terms of damage the earthquake did here in less than two minutes.

TANIS: "Like the Syrians," he says, "earthquake survivors won't be able to go home for years."

KARATUME: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: "And they'll need jobs, schools, permanent housing, transportation and much more."

KARATUME: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: He says they'll also need support for trauma as they integrate into their new neighborhoods. And that will be the challenge for years to come. Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Sanliurfa, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.