For Fager it is, so to speak, a decision between two catastrophes: the misery in Syria and that in Turkey. The Syrian stands with his niece at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, and devastation awaits on either side of the high gates - debris of houses, shattered lives. He fled Syria's civil war six times, most recently to Adana in Turkey, where he lived in a real house for the first time in years. But now that the earthquakes have once again forced him and his family into a tent, he contemplates escape number seven.
Almost a month has passed since the people of this region woke up to a nightmare. At 4:17 am on February 6, an earthquake brought down houses, burying tens of thousands. More than 50,000 people have been reported dead so far. The first 7.7-magnitude tremor in south-east Turkey was followed by a 7.6-magnitude tremor in the afternoon of the same day - and several aftershocks.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the earthquake a "catastrophe of the century" - it will keep Turkey busy for months, if not years. With the north-west of Syria, they also hit a region that was already groaning under a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.
Ghost towns and lots of homeless people
Even a month later, the extent of the tremors is hard to believe. According to the UN, around 29 million people in both countries are affected. Antakya, which was hit particularly hard, resembles a ghost town. Excavators clear rubble together. Entire neighborhoods in the region are poised for demolition. Some people venture back into collapsing buildings to salvage some furniture or other belongings.
Almost two million people are homeless in Turkey, and about the same number have now left the region. Those left behind are those who cannot or do not want to go. They live in adverse conditions, mainly in tents. Residents in the Samandag district told the dpa that the electricity often went out and they had no way of doing their laundry. There is a lack of drinking water and toilets, and there is a lack of hygiene. An announcement warns against drinking the tap water. Scabies and lice are on the rise, as Adana's medical board chief Selahattin Mentes said.
In north-west Syria, around 1.8 million displaced people were already living in tents, shelters and simple houses before the tremors - there are now 1,400 official and unofficial camps. Seats are not easy to get there. And so, since the tremors, thousands more families have sought shelter elsewhere, some in destroyed houses, others sleeping outdoors in freezing temperatures.
On the Turkish side you can see blue and white tents everywhere in the border region. They stand in parks and front gardens, in courtyards and playgrounds, on the side of the road, even in rural areas between olive tree plantations. A man who has found shelter with his wife and six children in a tent run by the AFAD civil protection agency can hardly describe what the next few weeks and months will be like. "The future," he says, "is over."
Missing victims, orphans and health emergency
In addition, there is concern about missing relatives: Many are still looking for their loved ones with advertisements on house walls or pictures in Whatsapp groups. Users also share photos and recent location information on Twitter. More than 44,000 people were killed in the quake in Turkey alone, but the government has not yet provided any information on the number of missing people. In Syria, helpers also take care of unaccompanied children. Many of them are displaced persons who already have weak social ties.
"Our life has become like a movie. Like a movie where you don't know the end," says a Syrian boy, maybe 12 years old, who is trying to get back to Syria via Bab al-Hawa. Ghaith, another, sits in front of a security booth. His family from the village of Salkin, who now also live in tents, have to pick him up here, and he is not allowed to cross the border alone. Ghaith wipes tears from his eyes.
In Syria, doctors continue to fight for the lives of the injured. "The medical situation cannot be described," says doctor Ammar Zakaria from the organization SAMS. No one dares to estimate the number of unreported deaths in northwestern Syria - around 5,900 have been confirmed. Much of the rubble has not been moved at all since the tremor due to a lack of heavy equipment. "There are very, very, very many victims," says Zakaria.
Mountains of rubble, asbestos and destroyed cultural assets
In addition to human suffering, the earthquakes have also caused a great deal of economic, ecological and cultural damage. According to the government, more than 200,000 houses were destroyed in Turkey alone - huge mountains of rubble that have to be disposed of. Greenpeace in Turkey warns of contamination with asbestos or other chemicals. Reliable data are not available. But where the heavy machines in Turkey are now demolishing the buildings, a white, acrid haze hangs in the air.
Cultural assets have also suffered severe damage or have been destroyed, especially in the city of Antakya, ancient Antioch: According to a first report by the Chamber of Engineers and Architects, these include the Orthodox Church of Saint Paul and the Habib-i Neccar Mosque - one of the oldest mosques in today's borders of Turkey. The walls of a historic castle in Gaziantep, built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, have also collapsed.
According to an estimate by the World Bank, the material damage caused by the earthquake is at least 34.2 billion US dollars (around 32.4 billion euros) in Turkey alone. The Turkish company and business association Türkonfed estimated the financial damage in a report shortly after the quake at 84.1 billion dollars (around 79 billion euros).
Shouts of resignation and help too late
After the shock, criticism of the government in Turkey is becoming increasingly clear, including calls for his resignation. Many criticize Erdogan's crisis management that too few rescue teams were there too late or that supplies arrived too late. Added to this is the accusation that the government has not punished bungled construction. Erdogan acknowledged delays but justified them with the size of the disaster area and the severity of the tremors.
About 500 trucks with relief supplies have meanwhile rolled into north-west Syria, but UN emergency aid coordinator Martin Griffiths admitted that the United Nations were too late to help there. Aid for Syria was dramatically underfunded even before the earthquake, says Clynton Beukes from the organization World Vision. "When the quake hit us, we had nothing," he says. Helpers were faced with the question of whether they wanted to pay the salary of a doctor in the hospital or station relief supplies at the Syrian border - both of which did not work together.
Erdogan in the election campaign, some normalization for Assad
The catastrophe hit Turkey in the middle of the election campaign. Erdogan makes it clear that he wants to hold on to an early election date of May 14. The government is now pushing ahead with the reconstruction of the region - new houses are to be built in the region within a year. A promise with which Erdogan hopes, despite all the criticism, to be re-elected after 20 years in power.
Syria's ruler Bashar al-Assad, who is staying in power with all his might during the civil war, also wants to derive political benefit from the disaster. After his long political isolation, he wants to show that his government - despite the country's fragmentation - is in fact the dominant force. In Syria, Assad could emerge as the only winner from this catastrophe.