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

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

But it was not any 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 taken advantage of a relaxation in regulations following the devastating earthquakes that struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria a month ago.

Turkish authorities are now allowing Syrian refugees living in earthquake-hit areas to voluntarily return to opposition-held northwest Syria and then return – as long as they don’t spend they are more than six months away.

For Syrians living in the 10 Turkish provinces affected by the earthquakes, where so many buildings have been destroyed and many are still unsafe, Syria – a country they fled to because of the war 12-years-old now – suddenly looking more attractive, albeit for a short time.

“After my sister and I spent 10 days in public parks, I had no choice but to return to Syria through the aforementioned voluntary return system,” said al-Ahmed, a 30-year-old refugee originally from the rural north 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 emergency situation of the southern regions of Turkey hit by the earthquakes, and the lack of relatives in other regions, are among the pull factors that have encouraged some Syrians to make the trip to the north of Syria. There, they have relatives and may at least be able to find shelter before reconsidering whether to stay or return to Turkey, once earthquake-hit areas are rebuild.

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

“The number of refugees who come through the Bab al-Hawa crossing is close to 15,000,” Mazen Alloush, director of media relations on the Syrian side of the crossing between the country and Turkey, told Al Jazeera.

Alloush said that the voluntary return program only applies to people who have the temporary protection permit, and is not open to people who have a tourist residence permit, or even Syrian-Turkish dual citizens.

A Turkish defense ministry official also told Reuters last week that 40,000 Syrians had returned to their homeland.

Since last April, Syrians have been banned from returning to Syria, and they were not allowed to return to Turkey if they crossed the border.

The issue of Syrian refugees in Turkey, of which there are more than 3.75 million, has been controversial in recent years, with anti-Syrian sentiment growing among the Turkish population.

A chance to get away

For al-Ahmed, his three-month trip to Syria is a chance to get away from what he experienced during the earthquakes, which killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, but he must return then.

“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 the burden,” al-Ahmed said. resume work too so I can make a living for myself and my family here.”

For others, the opportunity to return home allowed them to finally say goodbye to family members who had passed without them.

Malak Khazna, a Syrian refugee who has been living in the Turkish city of Antakya for the past nine years, lost her mother two years ago, but could not return due to fear of involvement the Syria.

“My only reason for coming back is to go to my mother’s grave. Maybe she would forgive me when I couldn’t say goodbye and take care of her while she was sick,” Khazna told Al Jazeera.

Malak Khazna
Malak Khazna has gone to Syria with her four-year-old son, and plans to spend three months there before deciding whether he should go back to Turkey [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Khazna said that the destruction caused by the earthquake reminded her of what she experienced during the war in Syria, where buildings were destroyed and civilians were trapped under the rubble.

“I’m staying for three months. I live with my son and his family,” Khazna said. “If I find that things are stable, and there are no air strikes, I will stay here and not return to Turkey.” I went to Turkey to escape [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime air strikes – I didn’t go there to calm down.”

The provinces in southern Turkey host the largest number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, due to their proximity to the Syrian border, and their relatively low rent and cost of living. the other areas.

Some of the refugees who lived in these areas have now decided to make a permanent return after the earthquake, in which many lost their jobs and belongings.

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

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

“I can’t move to another province because of the rent increase after the earthquake in most Turkish areas. Also, my family is big and I won’t be able to pay our expenses​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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

And so, between the choice of the tent he lives in now, and the dangerous journey back to Syria, he has decided to go home.

“Things are very bad in the camp [in Turkey]. There is a lack of aid, be it in terms of food, heating, or even drinking water,” Hasram said. “Turkey is now a part of the past, and I cannot go back again. “

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