February 16, 2023
SEOUL – Helping rebuild Turkey following last week’s earthquakes that killed at least 35,000 people is the new priority for South Korea, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, moving away from the role of first responders to helping Ankara set “long-term recovery goals.” Seoul is to field a second rescue team Thursday night.
“It’s all about reconstruction now, rather than rescue,” a senior ministry official told reporters following a multiagency meeting chaired by Foreign Minister Park Jin. The official noted the second team replacing the current 118-member mission staying in Antakya — Turkey’s southernmost region affected by earthquakes — will not only deliver relief packages worth 1 billion won ($780,000), but share expertise in facilitating a return to life before the tragedy. The first team will return home Saturday.
Such work, however, will begin from Adana, a city north of Antakya that still offers a vantage point for reconstruction efforts, according to the ministry. The decision was to factor in the realities of the rapidly closing survival window and the growing fears over looting and hygiene, a ministry official said, adding some countries had already pulled their teams out over such worries.
On Sunday, two German aid groups withdrew their missions, saying they would resume work once Turkish authorities fully addressed safety concerns. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed action against those involved in “looting and kidnapping.”
Wednesday’s follow-up aid, led by a senior Foreign Ministry official that will oversee the 20-member team, comes after President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed agencies to explore “every option” to help Turkey, a “brother country,” according to Yoon. Seoul-Ankara ties date back to the 1950-53 Korean War, where Turkey sent ground troops to help counter North Korea’s invasion.
Meanwhile, the Yoon government is working on a parallel project intended to help rebuild war-torn Ukraine. Korea is taking part in a two-day global gathering of experts on reconstruction that started Wednesday in Warsaw, Poland. Twenty-two countries and some 300 government bodies, along with multinational companies, are attending the event, where participants will chiefly discuss financing reconstruction plans.