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Aerial photo shows the destruction in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey DIA via AP/PA Images

GOAL says 27 of its employees died in earthquake in Turkey and Syria

A number of other staff members are still unaccounted for.

LAST UPDATE | 10 Feb 2023

GOAL, THE IRISH-BASED international humanitarian organisation, has reported that 27 of its staff members lost their lives in the violent earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday.

Teams are still working around the clock to find a number of staff still unaccounted for while also supporting the overall search and rescue mission, a spokesperson said.

“Accounting for the safety of each and every member of staff has been the utmost priority since last Monday.

“But this has presented significant challenges given the immediate movement of staff to find shelter and safety following the earthquake, the loss of electricity and power for telecommunications, damaged and completely unpassable roads, and the absolute geography of destruction and desolation across the vast region,” a statement noted.

“Never in the organisation’s history, has GOAL experienced the loss of colleagues on such a scale,” the spokesperson said.

CEO Siobhan Walsh stated: “To say it has been a profoundly difficult week for the GOAL Teams in Türkiye and Syria cannot be overstated.

“Because of the sheer geography of destruction, and GOAL’s long-term presence in the communities so severely impacted, the scale of loss is far beyond anything we could have ever imagined.”

GOAL staff across the region have also lost family members, sustained life-altering injuries, and lost their homes.

‘Paying the ultimate price’

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said he was “deeply saddened to hear of the significant loss of life among GOAL staff as a result of Monday’s tragic earthquake”.

“The GOAL staff members who lost their lives were carrying out vital humanitarian work to support the people of north-west Syria, who have suffered unimaginably over recent years.

Humanitarian workers put their own lives at risk to support the most vulnerable people in the world. Too often, they pay the ultimate price.

“I want to offer my sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives, as well as to all the GOAL teams around the world for whom this will come as a devastating blow.

“The staff members who died dedicated their lives to supporting people in need of humanitarian care. Each of them leaves a legacy of kindness, compassion and humanity. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha,” Martin said in a statement issued yesterday evening.

GOAL’s spokesperson added that the organisation’s teams in Turkey and Syria have mobilised responses to assess needs on the ground, “whilst prioritising the immediate restarting of key humanitarian aid programmes that deliver shelter, access to food, clean water and health and social support”.

The aid agency said it will continue to provide updates, as the situation on the ground in its existing locations of operation becomes clearer.

‘In mourning’

Deputy Chief Executive Officer Mary Van Lieshout said GOAL has been “in mourning” this week as it tries to locate staff and ascertain their safety.

“Today, we learned of one more staff who died from during hospitalisation following the earthquake, so it’s a time when we expect that there’s still some unaccounted for and so we’re braced for even more bad news, along with many people in Turkey and Syria,” she said.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s News at One, Van Lieshout said: “We appreciate the condolences of the Tánaiste and the Irish people. We’ve been so grateful for their support because it’s been a tough week.”

She explained that the extensive damage means it is “very difficult” to know when the search and rescue operation will end.

“There are still some of our colleagues unaccounted for,” she said.

“Goal has been in Syria, supporting the communities affected by the conflict in northwest Syria, since 2012. We have 950 staff there, all of them being local people – that’s the best way to do aid, local people knowing the best about the local circumstances.”

The areas of Turkey and Syria hit by the earthquake were already suffering from poverty, homelessness and harsh weather conditions, she outlined, with the disaster adding “another crisis” for people who were “already very fragile”.

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