Syrian refugees return home after Turkey earthquake

Thousands cross into rebel-held region after Ankara said they could visit for up to six months

Syrian refugees living in Turkey take a bus through the northern Bab al-Hawa border crossing, on February 17, 2023, as they return to Syria in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake.  - Turkey this week allowed Syrians under its protection who hold ID cards from one of the quake-hit provinces to leave for between three and six months, a rule change designed to reunite families on both sides of the border hit by the February 6 disaster, which has killed more than 41,000 people and displaced millions across both countries.  (Photo by Omar HAJ KADOUR  /  AFP)
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Thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey are returning to rebel-held areas of their country after the February 6 earthquake that caused widespread devastation on both sides of the border.

Turkish authorities said refugees who entered north-west Syria would have the right to return for up to six months, prompting many Syrians to cross the border to check on relatives.

Officials gave no figures for the number of people entering at the Bab Hamam crossing into Idlib, but said 4,600 Syrians had passed through the Bab al Hawa crossing since Turkey announced the offer on Wednesday.

"I haven't seen my family for four years, as I live alone in Turkey," Youssef Qramo said after crossing into Syria's north-west Idlib region.

"The situation in Turkey is miserable in the areas where the earthquake hit," he told Reuters

Mr Qramo, who had been living in the city of Gaziantep, said people were staying in tents in the cold and rain. As well as the harsh winter weather, Syrians had faced hostility, he said.

Even before the earthquake, the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey had encountered growing resentment from Turks struggling with a rising cost of living and sometimes blaming the influx from Syria for their economic woes.

In Gaziantep, Mr Qramo said police had moved Syrians out of a mosque where they were sheltering to make way for Turkish families. Several Turks in other quake-hit towns and cities have accused Syrians of robbing damaged shops and homes.

"The situation is very tough for Syrians," he said.

Mansour Hamoud, who was living in the Turkish port city of Iskenderun, said he had been sleeping in a park after his home was destroyed.

"I decided to come back and live in my country. Dead or alive, I prefer to be with my family," he said.

Around four million people live in north-west Syria under the control of armed rebels opposed to President Bashar Al Assad's government. The United Nations say most of them were dependent on aid even before the latest disaster.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake levelled thousands of building in Turkey and northern Syria, leaving millions homeless in freezing winter temperatures. The death toll had passed 38,000 in Turkey and 5,800 in Syria by Friday, 11 days after the earthquake. The disaster sparked a worldwide humanitarian response, although aid has been slower to reach Syria.

Anas Haj Qadro, who was in the badly affected Turkish city of Antakya when the earthquake struck, said he had decided to live with his family in Idlib until some normality returned.

With reporting from Reuters

Updated: February 18, 2023, 12:40 PM