Some 150,000 Syrians have returned from Turkey
Zeynep Bilgehan – ISTANBUL/ AZEZ
“Especially after ‘Operation Olive Branch,’ the Azez and Afrin districts [in northern Syria] have turned into safe areas. With more intense health and education services, more Syrians will be returning there,” Güllüoğlu said.
“Syrians have a strong perception of ‘nation.’ As soon as they know it is safe, they want to go back,” he added.
The municipality of Istanbul’s Esenyurt district, which hosts 140,000 Syrians and is one of the districts with the most Syrians, has even arranged buses to the southeastern border province of Kilis for refugees who want to return home.
Esenyurt Mayor Ali Murat Alatepe said 100 families have so far returned to Syria from the district.
“They bought houses and set up businesses here. We have hosted them so far but now we want to help them in their return,” Alatepe said.
“There is a demand from many families in Esenyurt to go back. I’m sure there will eventually be a small ‘Esenyurt’ town in Syria. They will find the comfort in places where Turkish security forces have brought peace,” he added.
The Amino and Şıbır families are among those returning to Syria from Esenyurt. Muhammed and Rudayna Amino have five children aged between 10 and 20, and only their oldest son Mahmud will stay in Istanbul.
On their journey to Kilis, which is 1,220 kilometers from Istanbul, one of the children of the Amino family told daily Hürriyet that they are from Aleppo and came to Istanbul four years ago.
“I was even attending school here. But now we want to be back with our grandfather in Aleppo. We will return there via Azez,” Cudi Amino said.
Meanwhile, Yahya Şıbır, traveling in the same bus to Kilis with his two sons, was leaving his wife and brother in Istanbul with the hope of seeing them next year.
“We also came from Aleppo three years ago. Half of my family moved to Azez a few years ago. We will establish a new life for ourselves in Azez,” he said, adding that he liked “parks and nice houses” most in Turkey.
“I will miss it here. But we have also heard that life is returning to normal in Aleppo,” Cudi said, adding that they are all excited to meet their old friends.
AFAD welcomes Syrian families in Kilis with its staff of 73 people, providing psychosocial and logistical support.
“Some people find their houses in Aleppo, which they think may have been demolished. Some see their neighbors who they think may have been killed,” said AFAD Field Coordinator Hakan Köse.
Syrians are estimated to make up 3.6 percent of Istanbul’s total population. The southeastern province of Şanlıurfa follows Istanbul, hosting nearly 468,000 Syrians. Over 457,000 Syrians live in Hatay province on the Turkey-Syria border and 459,000 live in the southern province of Gaziantep.
Some 130,000 Syrians live in the southeastern border province of Kilis, while the city’s non-refugee population is about 136,000, making the number of registered Syrians higher than the city’s regular population.
The lowest number of Syrians, a mere 49, live in the remote province of Bayburt in the Black Sea region.
Over 228,000 Syrians are living in 21 camps in 10 provinces across Turkey, state-run Anadolu Agency reported in January.