A team of British search-and-rescue specialists heading to Turkey will leave the UK “imminently”, a Government minister has said.
A flight had been scheduled to leave Birmingham on Monday night, carrying personnel and equipment to help with relief efforts, after the earthquake claimed thousands of lives.
The death toll has surged past 4,000 as rescuers in Turkey and Syria continue to look for survivors.
Development minister Andrew Mitchell confirmed on Tuesday morning that the British package of support – which includes a team of 76 search-and-rescue specialists, complete with state-of-the-art equipment and four specially trained dogs – would be leaving in the next couple of hours.
“The critical thing in these circumstances is the first 72 hours. These significant British assets are waiting to leave Birmingham. They were ready to leave last night.
“It has to be coordinated with the Turkish authorities. I expect them to leave within the next couple of hours so that they land in daylight. And then this British expertise will be helping what is a huge, international effort to save lives.
“It’s being coordinated very professionally by the Turkish authorities. They were ready to leave last night. But my information is that they will be leaving imminently and of course they will be landing in daylight, and that is the time where they can be most effective,” he told broadcasters.
Mr Mitchell said the UK was taking its lead from Turkey and would be able to provide all necessary support despite pressure on aid budgets.
“The aid budget is under very considerable strain. But Britain always carves out a certain amount to cope with humanitarian crises. That is what people in Britain expect us to do. Britain is always there first and in strength to help when these appalling catastrophes take place. And we will be there this time.
“And the humanitarian budget is in a way slightly separate from the steady state international development budget, and it is there specifically to respond to crises like these.
“The humanitarian budget is very carefully coordinated and set, and it reacts to the need on the ground,” he told Sky News.
The quake, which was centred in Turkey’s south-eastern province of Kahramanmaras, was felt as far away as Cairo.
It piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade.
On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday: “My thoughts are with the people of Turkiye (Turkey) and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake.
“The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”
The UK has for many years provided support to the White Helmets rescue team in Syria, which has operated to save lives during the bloody civil war in the country.
Mr Mitchell acknowledged the challenges of coordinating aid to Syria in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“The problem is it’s very difficult to get resources that are now needed across the border from Turkey, partly because Turkey has got its own problems, but also because there’s only one crossing place.
“And we hope that the UN will be able to negotiate additional crossing places.”
The British Red Cross on Monday launched an emergency fundraising appeal to support the response and get aid to those who need it in Syria and Turkey.