Business owners in Turkey’s Antakya empty their shops to avoid looters

In Antakya, residents and aid workers have cited worsening security conditions

Published : 12 Feb 2023, 07:54 PM
Updated : 12 Feb 2023, 07:54 PM

Business owners in a central district of Turkey's Antakya city were emptying their shops on Sunday to prevent their merchandise from being stolen by looters in the wake of Monday's devastating earthquakes.

Two massive earthquakes that struck early on Monday have left more than 33,000 dead in Turkey's south and Syria's northeast. The death toll is set to keep rising as the rubble of thousands of buildings has yet to be cleared.

In Antakya, residents and aid workers who came from other cities have cited worsening security conditions, with widespread accounts of businesses and collapsed homes being looted.

Some residents who were left homeless by the earthquake and are now sleeping in their cars or tents have said their valuable belongings including gold have been stolen.

President Tayyip Erdogan has said the government would deal firmly with looters, noting that a state of emergency had been declared. Under a presidential decree, the detention period for looters has been lengthened to four days from one.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Sunday that 57 people had been arrested for looting.

Reuters saw several business owners putting merchandise in boxes, some unsure how they would move them from the area or where they would put them.

Yuksel Uzun, the owner of an electronics store, was loading boxes of merchandise, including chargers and phone cases, on to two trucks with help from several others.

"Our shop is in ruins. Swindlers and thieves have (looted) it. They took what they could. We are left with what they left behind," he said, taking a break from loading the trucks.

He said the looters couldn't enter from the front, which was protected, and had gained access to the storage space from the back.

As those helping Uzun loaded the boxes, a military truck drove past and stopped to ask whether they owned the shop.

The military and police presence in Antakya has increased in recent days after Erdogan declared the state of emergency.

Uzun said he had seen supermarkets, pharmacies and various other businesses being broken into.

"They looted everywhere. The market across the street, shoe stores... I saw them break into a pharmacy," he said, adding he would store his merchandise outside the city.

He said there were enough security forces in the city by Sunday but that there hadn't been in the first few days after the quake.

"Police and soldiers who live here went through the same things as we did. So we cannot expect them to have taken the necessary measures for the first couple of days," he said.

Berkan Yogurtcuoglu, the store manager, said it was normal to loot supermarkets in the first days because aid and supplies only arrived later.

"For the first few days, everybody looted supermarkets because they needed to. I looted a supermarket because I needed diapers for my kids," he said.

The rise in such incidents has also stoked anti-immigrant sentiment in the city and in Turkey, with several people Reuters spoke to blaming Syrians, Afghans and other immigrants for the looting, without providing evidence.

Mehmet Dilmez, a wholesale textile shop owner, said looters had entered his shop through the back after a building collapsed there, opening up a way in to his premises.

"They took 70,000 lira from the drawer. They didn't take much of the merchandise. Our other shop collapsed completely. The goods that were spread around were looted immediately. We saved what we could," he said.