After earthquakes, Syrians use new rules to cross from Turkey | Turkey-Syria Earthquake News

Bab al-Hawa, Syria – After seven years apart, Hussein al-Ahmed traveled from Turkey and was finally reunited with his family in northern Syria.

But it wasn’t a change related to the war in Syria that brought him back.

Instead, al-Ahmed is one of thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey who have benefited from an easing of regulations following the devastating earthquakes that hit southeastern Turkey and northern Turkey. Syria a month ago.

Turkish authorities are now allowing Syrian refugees residing in earthquake-hit provinces to voluntarily return to opposition-held northwest Syria and then back – as long as they stay no longer than six months outside.

For Syrians living in Turkey’s 10 worst-hit earthquake provinces, where so many buildings have been destroyed and many remain dangerous, Syria – a country they fled due to the war that has now lasted 12 years – suddenly looks more attractive, albeit temporarily.

“After my sister and I spent 10 days in public parks, I had no choice but to return to Syria through the voluntary return system that was announced,” said refugee al-Ahmed. 30 years old from a rural northern area. Hama who lives in the city of Iskenderun in southern Turkey.

Hussein al-Ahmed
Hussein al-Ahmed reunited with his family in Syria after spending seven years in Turkey [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

The desperate state of Turkey’s earthquake-hit southern provinces and the lack of relatives in other provinces are among the pull factors that have encouraged some Syrians to make the journey to northern Syria. There, they have relatives and can at least find shelter before considering staying again or returning to Turkey once the earthquake-affected areas have been rebuilt.

The number of Syrian refugees arriving in Syria through the Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salam and Jarablus border crossings has reached almost 40,000.

“The number of refugees arriving through the Bab al-Hawa crossing is almost 15,000,” Mazen Alloush, media relations director for the Syrian side of the crossing between the country and Syria, told Al Jazeera. Turkey.

Alloush said the voluntary return program only extends to holders of the temporary protection permit and is not open to holders of tourist residence permits, or even dual Syrian-Turkish citizens.

A Turkish Defense Ministry official also told Reuters last week that 40,000 Syrians had returned to their home country.

Since April last year, Syrians were barred from traveling back and forth to Syria and were not allowed to return to Turkey if they crossed the border.

The issue of Syrian refugees in Turkey, who number more than 3.75 million, has been contentious in recent years, with growing anti-Syrian sentiment among the Turkish public.

Possibility of escape

For al-Ahmed, his planned three-month trip to Syria is an opportunity to get away from what he experienced during the earthquakes, which killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, but he then have to come back.

“I will go back to Turkey after my voluntary return ends because my family lives in a refugee camp here and I don’t want to increase their burden,” al-Ahmed said. “I also have to go back to work to be able to ensure my life and that of my family here.”

For others, the opportunity to return home allowed them to finally say goodbye to family members who died in their absence.

Malak Khazna, a Syrian refugee who has lived in the Turkish city of Antakya for nine years, lost her mother two years ago but was unable to return for fear of being stranded in Syria.

“My main reason for coming back is to visit my mother’s grave. Maybe she would forgive me when I couldn’t say goodbye to her and take care of her during her illness,’ Khazna told Al Jazeera.

Malak Khazna
Malak Khazna flew to Syria with her four-year-old son and plans to spend three months there before deciding to return to Turkey [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Khazna said the destruction caused by the earthquake reminded him of his experiences during the war in Syria, where buildings were toppled and civilians were trapped under rubble.

“My stay lasts three months. I will live with my son and his family,” Khazna said. “If I find things are stable and there are no airstrikes, I will stay here and not go back to Turkey. I went to Turkey to escape the [Syrian President Bashar] the airstrikes of the al-Assad regime – I did not go there to settle.

Turkey’s earthquake-hit southern provinces host the largest number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, given their proximity to Syrian borders, and their low rent and cost of living compared to other provinces.

Some of the refugees who resided in these provinces have now decided to make a permanent return after the earthquake, during which many lost their jobs and property.

Hassan Hasram, father of eight children, is a Syrian refugee who lived in Antakya.

Now, after losing his grandson and son-in-law in the earthquake, he has decided to return to Syria.

“I cannot move to another province because of the skyrocketing rents after the earthquake in most Turkish provinces. Also, my family is large and I will not be able to pay our expenses after losing my workplace,” Hasram said.

Hasram told Al Jazeera he has no relatives apart from his sister, who lives in a refugee camp near the Syrian-Turkish border, and that his tent would not be enough to shelter him and his wife. family.

So, between the option of the tent he currently lives in and the perilous journey back to Syria, he decided to return home.

“Things are going very badly in the camp [in Turkey]. There is a severe shortage of aid, whether in terms of food, heating or even drinking water,” Hasram said. “Turkey is now a thing of the past and I can’t go back.”

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