Msgr. Bizzeti: Antioch is a post-atomic city. Earthquake and migrants, a global response needed
The Vicar of Anatolia visited what can be considered the centre most affected by the earthquake on 6 February. The first cases of cholera are beginning to emerge and the risk of 'health infections' is high. People flee as public attention wanes. Earthquake and death at sea of migrants, as happened yesterday in Italy, inter-connected problems: we need a 'global vision'.
Milan (AsiaNews) - In Antioch "I saw a post-atomic war scenario: a ghost town, ghostly, where for kilometres there is not a single house that can be repaired" and a large part of the city is "suffocated by millions of tons of rubble".
This dramatic testimony is entrusted to AsiaNews by Monsignor Paolo Bizzeti, vicar of Anatolia, who in recent days visited "the centre worst hit" by the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria on 6 February.
Antakya, a once active metropolis teeming with people and businesses is now 'a city of ghosts, garrisoned by the military, where the first cases of cholera are beginning to emerge' and the danger of 'sanitary infections' is becoming increasingly real.
Over the weekend, the earth shook again with great intensity: according to the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, the earthquake occurred at a depth of 10 km in the area of Obruk Bor, in Nigde, in the south-central sector of the country. At least 9,000 aftershocks have been felt since 6 February, some of them of enormous magnitude, causing further casualties.
The death toll is now over 50 thousand, including 44,218 in Turkey and almost 6 thousand in Syria, where the count is even more uncertain because some areas are controlled by the government and others are in the hands of rebel and jihadist groups.
Up to 530 thousand people have been displaced, 10 thousand of them in Syria while Ankara has arrested 184 people accused of negligence in the construction of collapsed buildings.
A plausible tally of the victims is "difficult, almost impossible to know" observes the vicar of Anatolia, also because there were over 150 thousand Syrian refugees in the area alone and no one "reports their disappearance".
"The proportions of the tragedy," he continues, "are still to be written" even if the interest of the international media and public opinion is already beginning to wane. On the contrary, he warns, "we must maintain a high level of attention" and "continue to bear witness to the situation in Antioch with stories, photos and films, to show the drama. People are fleeing, they are trying in every way to get away,' he adds, 'thousands of people, making it a ghost city'.
To give an idea of the devastation, Msgr Bizzeti recounts having walked along a street in the old part where "for six kilometres not a single house was left standing".
He continues: "An apocalypse of such dimensions'made my blood run cold. In Iskenderun I had grasped the situation, the sight of the city did not surprise me, while in Antioch it is at least 10 times worse, difficult to understand and to recount, if one does not see it with one's own eyes" and "those who could, left."
In this emergency situation, the local Church and Caritas, in agreement with the local authorities, continue their aid work, distributing up to 1,000 meals a day. The collection and sorting centre is in Iskenderun, which although affected does not present an apocalyptic picture like Antakya.
"We are working very well," notes the vicar of Anatolia, "and we have already started to study the first reconstruction projects. Otherwise, everything in Antakya has collapsed [only St Peter's cave and the museum among the religious and cultural buildings were saved, ed] and those who did not remain under the rubble have left."
With a view to reconstruction, an important conference of donor countries that want to help Turkey is scheduled to take place in March in Brussels: "In this perspective, it is fundamental that there are precise and clear agreements, so that aid to earthquake victims does not turn into simply sending money, as was the case with the refugees" with the umpteenth tragedy occurring yesterday on the Italian coast.
A ship sailed from Turkey and wrecked off the coast of Calabria, in the south, causing the death of at least 59 people, including nine children and five young women. "The reasons for flight can be different: earthquake, war, poverty, the impossibility of a future," concludes Monsignor Bizzeti, who has been personally following the migration issue from Turkey for years, "but the result is always the same. People flee from places where life is impossible. On the other hand, one cannot be generous and supportive at the moment of tragedy and then not deal with the consequences of the tragedy itself. At the international level, we cannot isolate one problem from another, we need an overall vision to address all open issues, otherwise it becomes a schizophrenic way of thinking, and acting."
TO AID INITIATIVES FOR THE EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS CARRIED OUT BY THE APOSTOLIC VICARIATE OF ANATOLIA AND THE CUSTODY OF THE HOLY LAND, THE PIME FOUNDATION HAS OPENED A FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN. CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP.