By Erdal Turkoglu
Syrian refugees in Turkey’s southern Hatay province have begun returning to their homes in areas of Syria that fall within a network of de-escalation zones where acts of aggression are forbidden.
Refugees who hail from Syria’s northwestern Idlib province began leaving Hatay in mid-October after the Turkish military set up a series of observation posts to monitor Idlib’s de-escalation zone.
Nearly 4,000 refugees returned to their homes in Idlib in the second half of October, with 1,000 more following suit in the first week of November.
The de-escalation zones were set up as part of an agreement reached in May in Kazakh capital Astana between Russia, Turkey and Iran, which serve as guarantor states for an earlier cease-fire agreement.
After passing through a security checkpoint in Hatay, refugees are now crossing the border back into northern Syria before returning to their hometowns, which are now secured by Turkish soldiers.
Mohamed Keyha, 55, fled to Hatay from his village in Idlib with his wife and two children almost four years ago.
“We decided to go back home after hearing the good news [that Turkish troops had arrived in Idlib],” Keyha told Anadolu Agency.
“I hope the Turkish soldiers do a good job there,” he said. “Turkey will always be our second home.”
Ahmed Moustafa Jemil, a 22-year-old Idlib resident, also fled his hometown for Turkey two years ago.
“But when I heard Turkish soldiers were providing security there [in Idlib], I decided to go back to my country,” Jemil told Anadolu Agency.
Shadi Mohamed Abdelselam, another refugee from Idlib who has remained in Turkey for the last four years, said: “Now I’ll go back to my country. If the cease-fire holds, I’ll bring my wife and parents back too.”
He added: “Most Syrian refugees just want to go back to their homes and live in peace.”
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating civil war that began in early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and more than 10 million displaced, according to the UN.
Reporting by Erdal Turkoglu; Writng by Sibel Ugurlu