Legal aid provision for earthquake survivors expands with opening of new Hatay Bar Association headquarters

February 15, 2024

New structure was funded by Sweden and built by UNDP as part of a partnership with Union of Turkish Bar Associations to expand access to justice for vulnerable groups

Hatay – 15 February 2024 – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (UTBA) and the Ministry of Justice today opened a new headquarters building for the Hatay Bar Association, which lost its premises in the devastating earthquakes that hit in February 2023. The new building will help to restore legal aid provision to thousands of earthquake survivors in Hatay who lost property or suffered injuries in the disaster and are often unaware of their legal rights. 

The new two-story 498-square-meter earthquake-resistant structure was constructed by UNDP in just three months with US$328,000 in financial support from Sweden. The funding came from the final phase of a longstanding joint initiative of UNDP, UTBA and the Ministry of Justice aimed at expanding and improving legal aid services, with particular support directed at survivors of gender-based violence. 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in central Hatay today with the participation of the Swedish Ambassador Malena Mård, UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton, UTBA President Erinç Sağkan, and Hatay Bar Association President Erhan Nizamoğlu.

“Sweden is proud to be funding these new premises,” said Ambassador Mård. “Legal aid is a vital resource in normal times and has become doubly so in the wake of the disaster, which hit Hatay particularly hard.”

More than 27,000 people died in the earthquakes in Hatay, and 71 percent of all buildings were damaged, with 48 percent of structures either collapsing or suffering sufficient damage as to require demolition. The destruction of housing resulted in massive displacement, with some 300,000 people or 18 percent of the pre-disaster population currently living in container cities, tents or other temporary accommodation. 

“Along with the destruction, the disaster has generated vast uncertainty about property rights and compensation,” said UNDP’s Vinton. “It has also created new risks for vulnerable people and increased the prevalence of violence against women. We trust the new center will help address these needs.”

“The earthquakes have dramatically increased the caseload for legal aid providers precisely at a time when the bar associations that are tasked with delivering them lack the resources to provide the services needed,” said UTBA’s Sağkan. “The new premises in Hatay are a first step towards filling this gap.” 

The handover of the new structure concludes a joint initiative dating back to 2015. The results achieved included the establishment of six “victims of violence support centers” in Samsun, Balıkesir, Denizli, Antalya, Mardin and Rize to serve women at risk of gender-based violence; the training of 420 lawyers to provide specialized legal aid services to individuals subjected to violence; and the creation of an online learning management system to be used by the UTBA in training lawyers to assist victims of violence. 

During her visit to Hatay, the Swedish Ambassador also met with a number of small business owners who received “earthquake recovery grants” in 2023 under a program implemented by UNDP with Swedish funding. In all, Sweden contributed US$15 million to UNDP to support earthquake recovery efforts. UNDP distributed US$10 million of this funding to 4,616 entrepreneurs (42 percent of them women) in all 11 earthquake-affected provinces. Swedish funding was also used to expand care service provision to the elderly and persons with disabilities and to help municipalities improve waste management. 

For more information

Esra Özçeşmeci, Communications Associate for UNDP in Türkiye, 

Mustafa Umut Dulun, Communications Associate for UNDP in Türkiye,