Gaziantep, Turkey – For many Syrians living in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday have awakened traumatic memories of the 12-year war in their homeland.
Gaziantep is about 33km (20 miles) east of the epicentre of the initial magnitude 7.8 quake, which devastated the city and surrounding areas. Many survivors have lost their homes and are living in makeshift shelters in open spaces.
“We thought that living on the other side of the border would bring us to safety,” said Ahmad al-Rifai, 21, originally from Aleppo. “But we found ourselves reliving past traumas.”
Syrians in Turkey have experienced precarious economic and social conditions since they started arriving in the country in the early days of the war. In Gaziantep, many settled in poorer areas of the city, and after this week’s disaster, many of their homes are unsafe.
With rescue and aid operations delayed, they are camping in the open in places such as squares and parks. They gather in circles around fires, sitting and sleeping on mattresses on the ground under heavy blankets.
Some survivors told Al Jazeera the situation was giving them flashbacks of being displaced during the war in Syria. They describe a reawakening of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the fear of losing everything again and an inability to sleep.
Feeling the walls of their homes tremble and the ground under their feet shake resembled heavy shelling they experienced in Syria, they said. When they woke up, they thought they were back to Syria.