The most recent earthquake in Türkiye has been described as the most disastrous one in the country’s modern history for eight decades. The last major earthquake in Türkiye was in 1999. International assistance and cooperation have poured into Turkiye as a sign of solidarity. Elite+ caught up HE Apirat Sugondhabhirom, Thai ambassador to Türkiye, to learn about the Thai mission to support the Turkish people in this time of dire need.
Ambassador Apirat arrived in Ankara, directly from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he was the Thai consul general, to assume his present position in October 2021. He presented his credentials to the president of Türkiye in April last year. Currently, Ambassador Apirat is also the non-resident ambassador of Thailand to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan and North Macedonia.
Ambassador Apirat began by saying, “Türkiye is at the crossroad of three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa. Our work is to further promote better understanding and collaboration between Thailand and Türkiye as well as ASEAN and Türkiye, working closely with our Turkish friends and colleagues. In January this year, after a gap of about two decades, we organized the 4th meeting of the Thai-Turkish Joint Economic and Technical Cooperation Commission or JETC.”
With the recent earthquake, Ambassador Apirat sadly commented about the situation on the ground, “As of now, more than 44,300 have perished in Türkiye, and as many as 13 million people in 11 provinces have been affected. Many have suffered injuries and lost their homes and now require temporary shelter or accommodation. The relatively good news is that after some initial confusion, Turkish authorities now seem to have organised their operations to help people as they gain better control on the ground.”
According to Ambassador Apirat, “There have been various channels of humanitarian assistance from many sectors of Thai society to Türkiye (and Syria). Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand as well as HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya have donated more than 20 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Türkiye. The Royal donations include tents, blankets, sleeping bags, electrical generators and ready-to-eat halal food. The Royal Thai government has also donated five million Thai Baht, which the Thai prime minister presented to the Turkish ambassador in Bangkok in February. The Royal Thai Armed Forces and other Thai agencies also sent additional 23.0 tonnes of relief materials delivered by special Royal Thai Air Force flights to Türkiye. In addition, the Thai Red Cross Society has directly donated funds and humanitarian assistance to the Turkish Red Crescent, while many other Thai organisations, companiesand individuals have been providing aid in different forms.”
“Thailand also dispatched an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team, consisting of 42 rescue personnel and two rescue dogs under the supervision of the Thai Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation to Türkiye. Upon their arrival, they were deployed to work in Hatay, one of the heaviest-hit provinces in this calamity.”
The Thai Embassy has worked hard to provide support to the Thai people residing in Türkiye. “Up to now, the Embassy has been able to contact about 80 Thais in affected areas. We have already repatriated 47 Thais by two special Royal Thai Air Force flights after arranging transportation to the airports where the RTAF landed and accommodations while they waited for the special flights.
“We have also been sending relief materials to Thais who remain in the affected provinces, some staying with Turkish families. The Embassy stands ready to help affected Thai people further in accordance with the regulations of the Thai government. Unfortunately, one Thai woman passed away, and we have already sent her body home while another Thai woman is still listed as missing.”
Ambassador Apirat then added, “Luckily, not many Thai travellers were in the areas when the earthquake hit, and any who were there have already returned to Thailand. Most of the affected Thais in the earthquake provinces either worked or lived there with their Turkish families. Fortunately, the majority of Thais living in Türkiye reside in other parts of the country, like Istanbul and Izmir. There are now approximately 1,030 Thais living, studying or working here.”
As our interview drew to a close, Ambassador Apirat hopefully expressed, “This earthquake is one of the most serious in Turkish history. In the face of such a horrible natural disaster, we have seen how humanity can come together to help a country in crisis. Thailand also counts itself as one of Türkiye’s friends, and we are doing what we can to help. In the long run, I feel confident the Turkish people will overcome these difficulties and become even stronger with resilience.”