The King has met with volunteers from the UK Turkish community sending aid to his homeland and has expressed his “deep sorrow” following the devastating earthquake.
The monarch visited a west London charity to see for himself the efforts of residents working to help people left homeless after natural disaster struck south-eastern Turkey and Syria last week, killing tens of thousands of people.
Later, Charles was visibly moved when he visited a Trafalgar Square pop-up support center for Syrians living in the capital who have been affected by the earthquake.
Umit Yalcin, Turkey’s ambassador to the UK, joined the head of state as he visited the makeshift depot organized by the Hounslow-based West London Turkish Volunteers.
The diplomat said of the King: “He said he was deeply sorry, deeply saddened, and he will pray for Turkey, for Syria and the people under that devastating earthquake.”
During his visit, the King sipped Turkish tea, after adding a sugar cube, and briefly visited a nearby kebab takeaway and joked if the chef had any special ingredients to attract the public.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake and a subsequent 7.5 earthquake, both on February 6, have claimed the lives of more than 35,000 people in south-eastern Turkey and Syria, and the death toll is expected to rise to as the buildings are finally cleared.
The natural disaster reduced thousands of houses and buildings to rubble while people slept, with scenes of the rescue effort reported by news channels around the world.
With the efforts of authorities and NGOs now turned towards recovery and relief, the British public has helped the Turkey-Syria Earthquake Disaster Emergency Committee raise more than £74m in a few days, including donations from the King and the Queen Consort and the Prince and Princess of Wales.
In a courtyard next to the charity house behind the Kebab takeaway, the King was shown the latest shipments of pallets, stacked up to his head with boxes filled with tents, blankets, winter clothing and toiletries, which will soon follow more than 200 others already shipped to Turkey.
He chatted with the volunteers assembled for the royal visit, asking them where the shipments were headed. When Istanbul was told, the King inquired about Turkey and said, “Have they always been prone to earthquakes?” and they told me I was on a fault line.
When the King said: “I heard they are getting so many supplies and people have been helping,” volunteer Aysenur Gurkan, 21, replied: “The support has been quite immense.”
She added: “Not only the Turkish community, we have had the support of everyone. People are connecting.”
Around 500 local Turkish families use the center, but many are from a region in central Turkey and only a few were directly affected by the earthquake. However, the day the tremor struck, a frantic effort began to sort through donations coming in from the public, including the Ukrainian and Afghan communities.
The King watched volunteers sort through clothing and sleeping bags and was told about the fundraising efforts of the West London Turkish Volunteers, an organization that supports other communities in the area, to fund a new community and social center.
Before leaving, Charles visited the kebab and takeaway restaurant co-owned by one of the lead members of the charity. When he asked what meats they were cooking, he was told lamb and chicken doner kebabs.
He pointed to the press covering the event and said with a laugh: “They’ll probably have a kebab.”
Later, Charles visited Syria House, a week-long community tent in Trafalgar Square, where Syrians will be able to pay their respects to lost relatives and hold vigils downtown.
He spoke with Salah Al-Asmar, a UK-based Syrian architect, who lost his parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew in the Antakya, Turkey earthquake.
Al-Asmar later said: “For seven days, my family was under the rubble. There was no rescue team. No one could support them at this time. I haven’t been able to sleep for days.”
Yazan Douedari, who was invited to the event through friends, told the PA news agency: “The King was showing his support and saying ‘I can’t imagine how difficult it has been for you.’ He said ‘it’s terrible’. I saw that he was emotionally affected ”.