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Turkey earthquake: The children whose names have been erased

The wounded children in Adana City Hospital are too young to know how much they’ve lost.

I watched doctors in the intensive care unit bottle-feed an injured six-month-old girl whose parents can’t be found.

There are hundreds more cases of unidentified children whose parents are dead or untraceable.

The earthquake broke their homes and now it has taken away their names.

Dr Nursah Keskin grips the hand of the baby girl in intensive care – known only by the tag on her bed: “Anonymous”.

She has multiple fractures, a black eye and her face is badly bruised; but she turns and smiles at us.

“We know where she was found and how she got here. But we’re trying to find an address. The search is continuing,” says Dr Keskin, a paediatrician and deputy director at the hospital.

Many of these cases are children rescued from collapsed buildings in other regions. They were brought to Adana because the hospital is still standing.

Many other medical centres in the disaster zone have fallen or are damaged. Adana became a rescue hub.

In one transfer, newborn babies were rushed here from a maternity ward in a badly-hit hospital in the city of Iskenderun.

Turkish health officials say across the country’s disaster zone there are currently more than 260 wounded children who they have not been able to identify.

That figure may rise significantly as more areas are reached and the scale of homelessness fully emerges.

I follow Dr Keskin through the packed corridors. Earthquake survivors lie on trolleys, others are wrapped in blankets on mattresses in an emergency area. We head towards the surgery ward, also filled with injured children.

We meet a girl the doctors say is five or six years old. She’s sleeping and hooked up to intravenous drips. The staff say she has a head trauma and multiple fractures.

I ask if she has been able to tell them her name.

“No, it’s only eye-contact and gestures,” says Dr Ilknur Banlicesur, a paediatric surgeon.

“Because of the shock, these children cannot really talk. They know their names. Once they’re stabilised a couple of days later we can [try to] talk,” she explains.

Health officials have been trying to match unidentified children to addresses. But often the addresses are nothing more than ruins. In at least 100 cases, nameless children have already been taken into care.

Turkish social media has been filled with posts showing missing children, giving details of which floor they lived on in collapsed buildings, expressing hope they may have been rescued and taken to hospital.

Surviving relatives and health ministry officials have been travelling between medical centres trying to find them.

In the Adana hospital, the wounded keep coming. They are shocked and exhausted.

Everyone here is a survivor, patients and medics alike.

Dr Keskin lost relatives to the earthquake and sheltered in the hospital with her children as aftershocks struck.

I ask her how she is coping.

“I’m good, I’m trying to be good, because [the children] really need us.

“But I say thank God, I still have my children. I can’t think of a bigger pain for a mother than losing her child.”

Next to us, young patients in wards wait for their parents to come back.

Some have been reunited. But the rest remain the earthquake’s anonymous children.

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