European Union Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi and Johan Forssell, the international development cooperation and foreign trade minister of current EU Term President Sweden, was the latest European visitors to Türkiye following the Feb. 6 earthquakes.
The top EU officials met Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in the capital Ankara on Wednesday. They renewed the pan-European body’s commitment to helping the disaster-hit country, including readiness to participate in rebuilding the devastated infrastructure.
Speaking at the joint press conference with Varhelyi and Forssell, Çavuşoğlu said Europe responded to the disaster in Türkiye with relief efforts in the immediate aftermath, and emergency aid was diverted to Türkiye. Çavuşoğlu said 1,750 search and rescue personnel from the EU rescued 79 victims alive from the rubble. In addition, he said 18 EU member states separately sent humanitarian aid while Türkiye received 50,000 tents for displaced victims of the catastrophe.
Sweden, the current president of the EU, is set to organize a donors’ conference in Brussels on March 16 to mobilize support from the international community for earthquake victims in Türkiye and its neighbor Syria. Çavuşoğlu said they exchanged views on the planned event with Varhelyi and Forssell during their meeting in Ankara. The conference will coordinate with the European Commission and aim to mitigate the “horrible” consequences of the disaster “as much as possible,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström announced earlier.
Çavuşoğlu said they also agreed upon the sustainability and flexibility of international aid in their talks. “We will rebuild many cities. We thank the international community for all the support and the future support,” he said. The minister stated that 102 countries had already offered aid, and so far, assistance from 90 countries reached Türkiye while others were en route to Türkiye. He said more than 11,000 international search and rescue personnel worldwide worked in the country.
For his part, Varhelyi said the disaster was of horrible proportions, and his generation, at least, did not witness such a catastrophe. Varhelyi said the EU was standing with the people of Türkiye, “a friend and an ally,” as he extended his condolences to the victims’ families. Varhelyi noted that the EU initially donated 5.5 million euros ($5.85 million) to Türkiye and would now organize a donors’ conference to mobilize the international community. He said they were trying to get “a clear picture” of the size of the disaster and raise awareness of it. Varhelyi stated that although the EU might not be able to cover all the costs for recovery, it will be a part of recovery aid. “It will take time and cost, but our priority now is starting working on the ground,” he said.
Johan Forssell said at the press conference that they might be unable to rebuild what earthquake-hit cities had before the earthquakes, but they could build better places for survivors. He noted that several Swedish companies also took part in helping Türkiye, adding they might also create jobs for earthquake victims. He also said the European Commission indicated its readiness to support Türkiye for recovery, and they expected the same action from EU member states separately.
Varhelyi and Forssell met Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank and Minister of Treasury and Finance Nureddin Nebati, discussing ways to help Türkiye in the aftermath of the disaster.
Worldwide aid and condolences continue to pour in for Türkiye in the wake of the twin earthquakes that caused widespread loss of life and massive infrastructural damage. Officials from around the world, including the United Nations, the EU, Pakistan, Middle Eastern countries like Palestine and Qatar, as well as the Balkans and Africa, have continued expressing their sympathy for the victims and assuring Türkiye will “not be alone” as it grapples with the aftermath of the disaster.