The King has met volunteers from the UK’s Turkish community sending aid to their homeland, and expressed how “deeply sorry” he was following the devastating earthquake.
The monarch visited a west London charity to see for himself the efforts of residents working to help those left homeless after the natural disaster stuck south-east Turkey and Syria last week, killing tens of thousands of people.
Later Charles became visibly emotional when he visited a Trafalgar Square pop-up support centre 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 when he visited the makeshift depot organised by the West London Turkish Volunteers based in Hounslow.
During his visit, the King sipped Turkish tea – after stirring in a sugar lump – 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 later a 7.5 quake, which both struck on February 6, have claimed the lives of more than 35,000 people in south-eastern Turkey and Syria, with the death toll expect to rise as buildings are finally cleared.
With the efforts of the authorities and NGOs now turning towards recovery and relief, the British public have helped the Disasters Emergency Committee Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal raise more than £74 million in a few days – including donations from the King and Queen Consort and the Prince and Princess of Wales.
In a courtyard next to the charity’s home behind the Kebab takeaway, the King was shown the latest shipments of pallets, piled head-high with boxes filled with tents, blankets, winter clothes and toiletries, soon to follow more than 200 others already sent to Turkey.
When the King said: “I hear you’re getting so many supplies and people have been helping,” volunteer Aysenur Gurkan, 21, replied: “The support has been quite immense.”
She added: “Not just the Turkish community – we’ve had support from everybody. People are connecting.”
Around 500 local Turkish families use the centre but many are from a region in central Turkey and only a few were directly affected by earthquake. However, on the day the tremor struck, a frantic effort began to sort through donations that poured in from the public – including from Ukrainian and Afghan communities.
The King watched volunteers sorting through clothes and sleeping bags and was told about the fundraising efforts of the West London Turkish Volunteers, an organisation which supports other communities in the area, to fund a new community and social centre.
Before leaving, Charles visited the kebab restaurant and takeaway co-owned by one of the senior members of the charity. When he asked what meats were cooking, he was told lamb and chicken doner kebabs.
He pointed at the press covering the event and said with a laugh: “They probably will have a kebab.”
Charles later toured Syria’s House, a community tent which will be open for a week in Trafalgar Square where Syrians will be able to pay their respects to lost relatives and organise vigils at the centre.
Mr Al-Asmar said afterwards: “For seven days, my family were under the rubble. There was no rescue team. No-one could support them in this moment. 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 was saying ‘I can’t imagine how hard it has been for you’. He said ‘it is terrible’. I saw that he was emotionally affected.”