Feb 7, 2023 - Podcasts

Earthquake "another devastating blow" to Syrians

Two earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday, and the death toll is well into the thousands. “This earthquake is yet another devastating blow to so many vulnerable populations already struggling after years of conflict," said Tanya Evans, the Syria country director for the International Rescue Committee.

  • Plus, immigrant communities in Florida react to the new parole program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Guests: Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath and WLRN's Tim Padgett.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, February 7.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: immigrant communities in Florida react to the new parole program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

But first: an earthquake that killed thousands is another devastating blow to Syrians. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Early Monday morning, local time, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck southern Turkey in northern Syria with shocks felt as far away as Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel. It originated near Gaziantep, Turkey, a city of more than 2 million people. Later on Monday, a second earthquake of 7.5 magnitude struck the same area and the death toll is now well into the thousands.

Axios’ Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath is here to explain how the earthquake compounds existing crises, including the displacement of millions of refugees in Syria from 12 years of Civil War.

Laurin-Whitney, you wrote that this earthquake is a crisis within multiple crises. Can you break that down for us and catch us up on all the preexisting crises prior to the earthquake?

LAURIN-WHITNEY GOTTBRATH: Yeah, absolutely. As many people know around the world, Syria has been thrust into Civil War for well over a decade now. And particularly in northern Syria, a lot of Syrians have been displaced. There's opposition held territory, that hosts millions of internally displaced people. Um, and that's where this earthquake, particularly, hit. It also hit in areas controlled by the Syrian government. You also have refugees who pour into Gaziantep and other places in Turkey, um, that were devastated. So these people have been displaced over and over and over again. So when this earthquake happened, my first thought was yet again, the Syrians are unfortunately experiencing destruction and devastation to unimaginable levels.

Syria is also experiencing a really bad economic crisis at the moment. Because of the economic crisis and the war, you have a lot of health facilities that are overcrowded and unable to really respond to the destruction of this horrible earthquake. It's really unimaginable to think about how Syrians in Syria, but also Turkey are going to sort of rise up from this.

NIALA: What do we know about what life is like on the ground in Southern Turkey, in northern Syria right now as we are experiencing this immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

LAURIN-WHITNEY: People are still in sort of rescue mode. So many buildings were flattened in this earthquake. I think there's a lot of hope that people will be found alive. But then also there were tons of aftershocks that happened and another really, strong earthquake that happened. So I think there's still a lot of fear in both Turkey and in Syria as to what destruction may come during sort of these rescue operations.

NIALA: As we're talking about the international response, we saw both Ukraine and Russia pledging to help Syria as well as Israel and Palestine, is that pretty typical in a natural disaster like this?

LAURIN-WHITNEY: Yeah, I think so. I was interested when I saw Ukraine, because obviously Ukraine is going through their, a war themselves and in terms of the war itself, Russia and Syria or the Syrian government, are allied. And so that to me wasn't all that surprising that we saw Russia responding, um, so quickly. But the thing that's really sad is that it took a natural disaster of this level, to sort of garner this support. You know, the UN has been responding to the war in Syria. Since it began. The Syrian Humanitarian Fund, for this year wasn't even 50% funded before this devastation happened.

NIALA: Laurin-Whitney Gottbreath is Axios world editor. Thanks Laurin-Whitney.

LAURIN-WHITNEY: Thank you for having me.

Immigrant communities in Florida react to the new parole program

NIALA: In a moment: South Florida communities react to a new immigration policy from the Biden administration.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I’m Niala Boodhoo.

It’s been a month since President Biden announced a new immigration policy for migrants arriving from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela - a parole program that admits 30,000 migrants a month.

But what does this program look like for the people eager to take advantage of it? WLRN’s Americas Editor Tim Padgett has been covering this from South Florida. Hello, Tim. Welcome to Axios Today.

TIM PADGETT: Hi. Thanks very much.

NIALA: Tim first, can you tell us how exactly this new parole program is working?

TIM: It's so far working pretty well. At least that's what the Biden administration is telling us. The whole intent of this program was to keep people from making these dangerous journeys to the US Southern border. And I should say the overwhelmed crisis-ridden US southern border right now and with the promise that if they stay home and apply for this parole program, they could come to the US for two years and have a work permit if they have a sponsor here who can support them. And so far, it's been an received enthusiastically both in those countries, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Haiti, as well as here in the United States.

NIALA: So Florida's Haitian immigrant population is bigger than anywhere else in the US. How is the community in South Florida reacting to this?

TIM: Well, they're reacting to it enthusiastically, but more rarely I think, than the other communities from the other countries Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua are, because Haitians have a, a, a longer and more acute history of risks, here in the United States when it comes to their immigration status. So you have a lot of Haitians in the community who want to sponsor Haitians for this parole program, but they're very worried about what are the risks? What, for example, if the person I sponsor gets into legal trouble here during those two years, does that then jeopardize my immigration status here?

They're also worried about the financial risks. So you're, you're seeing the community receive this more rarely than the other immigrant communities that are, uh, taking part in this program and that's causing troubles for immigration attorneys, who are trying to get people on board as sponsors here. To help all those Haitians, for example, that we've been seeing, in newsreels and videos who are crowding the one office in Haiti where they can get their passports, so that they can become eligible for this program.

NIALA: Tim, as I've been in South Florida talking to different Haitian Americans, I've actually heard misinformation about this program. And you've been reporting there's actually a lot of misinformation inside the Haitian community about the parole program. How is that happening?

TIM: Well, like any migrant community here, particularly in South Florida, social media tends to blow up when, when we have situations like this, because you have a lot of unscrupulous people who want to exploit all of the confusion and questions that might be out there. So you might have people going on WhatsApp group chats, for example, and saying, “well, you know, if you want to be a sponsor, you've gotta pay an immigration attorney like me to get you into the process,” which is completely untrue. And again, this is one of the things that both the Biden administration and immigration advocates here in the community itself are having to deal with as they're trying to get people to take part in the program.

NIALA: What are the basics of the program in terms of sponsoring someone? Can you just kind of highlight the main points?

TIM: It's fairly simple. And, and it's not just a family member who can be a sponsor. It could be a business, for example, a hardware store down the street. And all they have to do really is just show that they have, an income, you know, a steady job and with which they can help support the person who they're sponsoring to come in to the United States on this parole program. And, again, that financial burden is really not all that onerous given the fact that the person coming in on the parole can get a work permit and start working and making their own income.

NIALA: I wonder if you can give us the context of a program like this and how successful it may be when you consider the past couple decades of US immigration policy for migrants coming from Latin America and the Caribbean?

TIM: The short-term answer is, this was a pretty smart move by the Biden administration. This was a way to provide, would be migrants coming to the United States with a sort of carrot and stick alternative. If you stay at home and apply for this program, we will give you a safe, lawful way to come into the United States for two years and work. At the same time telling them if you try to come in at an illegal port of entry to the United States, you're going to be sent back immediately. And what you'll hear from pretty much every immigration attorney I've talked to this week is that it's just a stop gap measure.

The biggest question in all of these communities right now is, so what happens after the two years that they're here? We even asked Alejandro Mayorkas, the home Homeland Security Secretary, what does happen to these people after two years. And Mayorkas’ aids really just told us point blank, we haven't hammered that out yet.

NIALA: Tim Padgett is the America's editor for WLRN joining us from Miami. Thanks.

TIM: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Our whole production team is together this week for an Axios-wide gathering, so if things sound just a little different – it’s because most of the show is being produced from a hotel room. Check out Twitter if you want to see some behind-the-scenes photos.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

This week on The New Yorker Radio Hour: a talk with novelist Salman Rushdie. He survived a brutal attempt on his life last year, and he just published a new book. Salman Rushdie, on the New Yorker Radio Hour, from WNYC Studios. Listen wherever you get podcasts.

Go deeper