Surviving the Earthquake: Rafiq's Story - GOAL Global Skip to content

Surviving the Earthquake: Rafiq's Story

Reeling from the earthquakes’ devastation

Almost one year on, communities in Northwest Syria are still recovering from the devastating earthquakes that struck Türkiye’s (Turkey's) southeastern provinces and Syria’s north in February 2023. A disaster that killed over 60,000 people and injured thousands more.

GOAL teams were on the ground in Turkey and Syria to provide immediate lifesaving aid. In the months that followed, GOALies delivered cash-based assistance to more than 210,000 people in Northwest Syria. Enabling displaced families to buy food, clothing and medicine. Displaced families like Rafiq's.

Lucky to Survive

“We lost everything overnight,” Rafiq* says. “Our building, shaken to the core, suffered structural damage, and the walls of our apartment cracked. Suddenly we found ourselves under the heavy rain, on the street. Everything around us was collapsing, with rubble shooting from all directions as if it were doomsday. How we got out, we do not know,” he continues.

His life in ruins, Rafiq feels fortunate to have survived. Millions of people were awoken in the early hours of February 6th as the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Türkiye and Syria. As communities searched for survivors, a deadly 7.6-magnitude tremor followed just hours later.

GOALie on the ground after the Turkey-Syria earthquake
GOALie providing immediate aid after the earthquakes in Northwest Syria.

The horror we experienced that day was different from all the fears we endured due to the war and the constant shelling.

A father in Northwest Syria in an apartment damaged after the Turkey-Syria earthquake with the walls cracked.
Rafiq in his family’s damaged apartment, which is now inhabitable following the earthquakes.

Following 13 years of conflict and shelling, Rafiq was no stranger to being woken up in the early hours with the ground beneath him shaking. However, the 58-year-old father of eight had never experienced the fear caused by the catastrophic earthquake.

“The horror we experienced that day was different from all of the fears we had endured due to the war and the constant shelling,” Rafiq says.

When the tremors subsided, Rafiq and his family discovered the true impact of the disaster. They found themselves surrounded by news of death and destruction across Idleb and Northern Aleppo.

Days of Darkness and Desperation

“We thought being displaced by the war engulfing our country was the most difficult challenge of our lifetime. But February’s devastating earthquakes caught us off guard, bringing on a renewed wave of suffering,” continues Rafiq.

“The days following the earthquake were the toughest. Everyone was distraught. Wandering the streets in a state of shock and sadness for the loss of their loved ones and homes. We spent days and nights among the olive trees, lying on the cold branches that neither eased our loneliness nor warmed our bodies, with stray dogs roaming around us. There was little food available, no clean water to drink, and no shelter,” Rafiq adds.

Rafiq, his wife and three of their children now live in a tent near their damaged apartment. They remain in constant fear that another earthquake will strike.

Despite this, they have no choice but to return to their damaged home to retrieve their belongings frequently. To prepare meals and to keep warm during the coldest days. “We’re like hurried guests in our own home, going in and out just to borrow things,” Rafiq explains.

A father standing with his two daughters outside the tent that he's been living in with his family since the Turkey-Syria earthquakes.
Rafiq with his daughters Leila (10) and Yasmine (7) outside the tent they’ve lived in since the earthquakes.

The injuries that Rafiq suffered in the disaster have also prevented him from finding a job.

“The disaster’s psychological effects still linger on, its horror embedded in the hearts and minds of myself, my wife, and my children – not to mention the impact it had on our very life and livelihoods,” Rafiq continues.

A Lifeline for Families

With support from EU Humanitarian Aid, GOAL teams have provided financial assistance to over 43,000 families affected by the earthquake in Northwest Syria. With direct cash-based support communities have been empowered to purchase food, clothing and the medical supplies they need to survive. Households like Rafiq’s have been prioritised for longer-term support, helping people who lost their homes cope with the immense challenges that life in a tent presents.

“The aid provided by GOAL to earthquake survivors has helped us greatly,” Rafiq explains. He adds: “This cash enabled me to buy the medicine my wife and I need as well as make up for the shortfall in meeting our everyday expenses.”

The aid provided by GOAL to earthquake survivors has helped us greatly. This money enabled me to buy the medicines my wife and I need.

Father and daughter sitting inside an apartment damaged by the Turkey-Syria earthquake.
Rafiq and his daughter, Leila, collecting household items from their damaged apartment.

Rafiq is thankful for the support but worries about his family's uncertain future. With his employment prospects limited he fears how they will survive. “The scale of the disaster we have been through, the rising prices in the markets and the wide range of unmet needs in our region necessitate the continuation of this assistance.”

*The names of the individuals featured in this story were changed to protect their identities.

GOAL in Syria

After more than a decade of conflict, over 6.8 millions Syrians are internally displaced. 70% of Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance and relying on aid to survive day-to-day.

GOAL teams have been working on the ground in Syria since the conflict began in 2012. In the last year GOAL's emergency response programme has reached over 287,000 newly displaced people with food, cooking supplies and financial assistance. As GOAL engineers repair damage to water network infrastructure, more than 1.1 million people are now able to access clean drinking water in their homes. A further 430,000 people are benefitting from GOAL's bakery programme in North-West Syria.

Impact in Numbers

+1 million

Providing clean water to over 1 million people


Delivering bread to over 430,000 people daily

2.1 million

People supported in 2022


GOAL begins operations in Syria

Kareem's Story

Kareem and his family have spent the last decade travelling across war-torn Syria seeking refuge. Neighbouring Turkey offered a safe haven and a chance to rebuild their lives.

Sadly, this respite was short-lived. The family were forced to flee once again when a massive earthquake struck Turkey in February. Lucky to escape with their lives, the family returned to North-West Syria.

Escalating conflict has once again uprooted the family. As airstrikes intensified, Kareem and his family were forced to flee their home in Sarmin.

The decision was not taken lightly but Kareem was left with no choice, “You experience the peak of helplessness when you see your children scared, trembling."

"Although it was dangerous to travel while bombs were falling all around us, I gathered my children one evening when the shelling waned a bit and we escaped without looking back,” Kareem says.

Kareem with his 2 sons and daughter at their new temporary home

Kareem with his 3-year-old son Azim, 4-year-old Ahmad and 5-year-old daughter Yasmine.