The Hatay Governor’s Office has ordered the evacuation of civilian groups from Sevgi Park in Turkey’s earthquake-struck Hatay province, impeding efforts to provide relief to victims of the 6 February earthquakes.
The park has been serving as a headquarters for NGOs and left-wing organisations to coordinate and distribute aid since the devastating earthquakes which killed more than 45,000 people and affected a total of 13 million people in 10 of the country’s provinces as well as in northern Syria.
Officials visiting the park forced people out, saying nearby demolition and rubble-clearing works would result in the release of asbestos dust.
Groups in the park were notified of the upcoming evacuation on 1 March by the police and Turkey’s disaster response authority AFAD. Hasan Durkal of the Social Freedom Party (TÖP) told Medya News that the police officers had been accompanied by a “wannabe local gangster” to intimidate them.
Volunteers were also told that the Turkish Red Crescent would settle in the park instead. The alternatives they were offered lacked infrastructure and amenities on par with the Sevgi Park, and locals refused to leave, Durkal said. Soldiers removed the tents by force on Thursday and pushed out the victims.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB), Halkevleri, TÖP, a German NGO, and some families who initially refused to leave were later forced to evacuate following threats of an attack by security forces.
The Turkish government has faced criticism for its management of the earthquake crisis and for dismantling solidarity centres.
Sevgi Park was a centre for the earthquake victims and the government’s targeting of other solidarity centres is a concern, Durkal said. “Sevgi Park was a shelter for 83 families, but it was also a place where people living in neighbourhoods came. It was a wound-healing centre, it was very important in terms of socialising and commiserating.”
“I shared my troubles with you, I can’t do that where I’m going,” Durkal cited one neighbour as saying.