A Calgary man has just returned from Turkiye after spending nearly five months there helping his two siblings who were severely injured in the earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria in February.
More than 50,000 people were killed while development experts from the United Nations estimate that about 1.5 million people were left homeless by the quake.
Mohammad Ajmal Nikzad left his home in Calgary to immediately to help his mom and three siblings who were living in Turkiye.
His brother and 19 year-old sister were injured. Lying beside them were the bodies of their mom and older sister who had been killed.
“We lost everything. They lost every single thing in their life that they had — even their legs and wishes,” Nikzad said from his northwest Calgary home.
His brother, Sayed Hashimy, spent 36 hours trapped under debris in the home he lived in with his mom and two sisters.
“I heard her asking for help and asking to be saved,” Hashimy said. “She had fallen upside down and her mouth was in dust. She couldn’t breathe properly.
“A pillar was on my sister’s leg and they were trying to take her out. It took them more than three hours when they were trying to break the concrete and she was shouting and crying that it’s hurting.”
Hashimy, 26, said there were many people helping get him and his sister out from the rubble. They were asking their names and their apartment numbers.
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“When we said our names and apartment numbers, they said, ‘Oh, they are Syrians leave them alone — let’s get out of here,’ that’s why they stayed there longer,” he said.
“I was trapped for 36 hours. I lost my legs.”
Hashimy’s legs were both amputated while he was in Turkiye.
Nikzad was able to locate his brother and surviving sister and bring them to Calgary five months after the earthquake.
He worries for the people left behind, especially those living in Turkiye who were refugees. His family had relocated there from Afghanistan and there are many more from Syria. He said many are still living in tents without proper medical care.
“The crisis has just started out there,” Nikzad said. “People really need help now because they have no shelter. They have no food. They have no medication. They need artificial legs, and if they don’t have the legs, they won’t be back to regular life — they won’t be able to work.”
Hashimy was studying to be a mechanic in Turkiye. Now his future is uncertain.
“I had lots of wishes before this happened. I wanted to go to the gym and be an athlete, but unfortunately I lost my legs,” Hashimy said.
Canada has introduced temporary special measures to support earthquake victims giving “priority to affected individuals for temporary resident, permanent resident and refugee applications.”
Despite the grief and trauma his family has suffered, Nikzad remains thankful and continues to support others who are still struggling to survive in Turkiye.
“I don’t know how they’re going to survive,” he said. “I got lucky because I am living in such a nice country. But not everyone has that opportunity.
“I got help from the government of Canada, that they accepted my brother and sister, and I am glad to bring them here with me, but others have no one. The crisis is not over. They really need help.”
He is thankful for his employers at A Gallery of Floors in Olds who started a fundraiser for his family.
“Our customers love him (Nikzad) and rave over his amazing personality — his laugh is contagious,” said A Gallery of Floors owner Shaun Waite. “He is our family, his family is our family.
“He is the lone supporter of his family in Calgary, and his family in Turkiye.
“The expenses he is incurring will continue to for many years to come. This family is struggling with unimaginable pain and horror.”
Nikzad said he is facing his own crisis now.
“In the house I am living, the homeowner called and wants to sell, so I have to find another house but it’s very hard for me to get another house right away,” he said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is prioritizing temporary resident and permanent resident applications, including refugee resettlement applications, from affected clients in the region.
Canada introduced new measures to make it easier for Turkish and Syrian nationals to extend their temporary status in Canada, and the opportunity to find a job while they are here.
“This will make it possible for Turkish and Syrian nationals already in Canada, including those who come from the areas affected by the earthquake, to stay and support themselves while the region rebuilds,” said a statement from IRCC.
The measures will be in effect from March 29 to Sept. 25, 2023.
As of Feb. 8, 2023, there were close to 16,000 IRCC clients with applications in progress in Turkiye and Syria. Of these, approximately 1,700 (750 permanent and 920 temporary residents) were from the area impacted by the earthquakes.
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