Despite progress in clearing debris, the city still wears a haunting emptiness that is slowly returning to community life, thanks to support from the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Emel and her family were lucky to survive. Yet, their survival came at the heavy cost of losing everything they held dear.
“My husband and I just bought a new house three years ago, after living with his parents for many years,” she said. “Our house was totally damaged. We couldn’t retrieve anything.”
They now reside in a formal settlement, colloquially known as a ‘container city’ — a temporary refuge not far from the city centre. Here, over 4,500 residents have found a place to live after the quakes left them homeless.
Emel welcomes visitors into her new home, a two-room furnished container unit, complete with a bedroom, bathroom and a kitchen. Given the size of her family, with children aged between six and 17, they were provided with a more spacious container.
She fondly recalls that the day they moved into their new, albeit temporary, home coincided with the Eid festivities. The settlement had a joyous spirit, despite the challenges the residents had all gone through.
Renewed sense of purpose
After settling in, she found employment at a public laundromat, where she now works alongside fellow residents Neslihan and Vefa. Aside from it being a source of income, the job has given her other benefits.
“Working here has significantly improved my mental health,” she said. “I have a sense of purpose each day, and I get to spend time with my neighbours who work with me.”
Neslihan and Vefa echo her sentiments about their newfound employment. The trio diligently work at the laundromat on weekdays, clocking in from 8am to 5pm and a half-day on Saturdays, leaving Sunday for quality time with their families.
Sprawling with activity
The settlement is slowly sprawling with activity. Among other recent infrastructure improvements, the settlement hosts a school, library, computer lab, sports centres, recreational spaces and a child-friendly centre.
With the child-friendly centre, Emel, Neslihan and Vefa no longer have to worry about where to leave their kids while they are at work.
In the summer, the centre began offering drawing and handicraft making activities. With the school year resuming, teachers now offer kindergarten lessons with the aim of ensuring that children’s education is interrupted as little as possible.
Temporary homes for thousands
The resumption of such public services would not be possible without prefabricated containers, aside from giving temporary homes to hundreds.
As of October 2023, IOM has delivered over 830 containers to authorities, which are distributed across the four most earthquake-affected provinces – Adiyaman, Hatay, Kahramanmaras and Malatya.
“We work closely with authorities to ensure that the containers reach where they are needed most,” said Ibrahim Timurtas, IOM’s National Area Operations Officer. “Not only are these critical for people to have shelter, they also help residents regain a sense of normalcy in a new environment.”
Pleased with improvements
With the winter approaching, the three women are pleased with the improvements in their lives and with the facilities and amenities offered in the settlement.
“For three months, we lived in a house with two families,” Neslihand said. “The containers here are much better than where we were living after the earthquakes.”
Although it takes a lot of courage to start afresh, Emel, Neslihan and Vefa are maximizing new opportunities in their communities even as they hold onto hope that one day they will own their own homes again.