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King Philippe and Queen Mathilde listen to grieving families following devastating earthquake

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of the Belgians travelled to the Flanders to meet with two grieving families. 

On Monday, 13th February, Their Majesties arrived in the municipality of Houthalen-Helchteren, in Belgian Limburg province, and were welcomed by two families, one of Turkish origins and the other one from Syria. 

The King and Queen sat around the kitchen table of one home and on a couch in the other and listened attentively as the two families explained how they felt after learning that they had lost loved ones in the earthquakes that shook those countries. 

The family from Turkey had relatives in Hatay, the regional capital of one of the most affected areas, whereas the family from Syria lost their loved ones in Aleppo, a name with which most people were unfortunately familiar before the earthquake. 

With their visit, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde “wished to express their condolences and their support to the affected families, and, more broadly, to the communities,” according to the Belgian Royal Palace. 

On Monday, 6th February, at 4 am local time, a violent 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the area at the border between Turkey and Syria, causing immense damage to buildings, which collapsed on top of the sleeping population.

So far, more than 35,000 people have been confirmed dead, with UN estimates saying that the number of fatalities could double as more bodies are recovered. The number of people that are currently homeless is thought to be in the millions, although there aren’t any exact estimates. 

International aid was quick to pour into Turkey, with many countries, including Belgium, sending search and rescue teams, medical staff, and basic need supplies. 

The situation in Syria, however, is more complicated, with the geopolitical issues tied to the civil conflict playing a huge role in the way aid is allowed to access the country and then redistributed. The UN is currently allowed to use only one border crossing to bring humanitarian aid into Syria – and that checkpoint was damaged in the earthquake, further hampering the international efforts to bring relief into northwestern Syria.