Amid an ongoing civil war in its southern neighbor Syria, the hubbub at Turkey's southern border crossing is unprecedented. Thousands among nearly 3 million Syrian refugees who have taken shelter in Turkey returned to their hometowns liberated from Daesh while thousands more return to Turkey after celebrating last month's Ramadan holiday, Eid al-Fitr, in the relatively safe areas of devastated Syria.
Some 23,000 Syrians who spent the holiday - a culmination of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan - in Syria have returned to Turkey since last week through the Öncüpınar border crossing after they were first allowed into the war-torn country on June 13. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Qasim Qasimi, director of the As-Salameh border crossing opposite Öncüpınar, said Turkey's permission meant "a festival at home for tens of thousands of people." He said Operation Euphrates Shield by Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military enabled many to return to their hometowns at least briefly. Hussain Shadi, reunited with the relatives he has been separated from for about one year, said things are "better" in Syria but he had to return to Turkey as there were "no jobs" in his devastated homeland.
As refugees return to Turkey, thousands of others headed to Jarablus, which was liberated from Daesh in the above-mentioned Turkish-backed operation last year. More than 44,000 people have returned to the town since the operation started last in August, Anadolu Agency reported. An average of 200 Syrians, dragging their suitcases behind them arrive at the Karkamış border crossing in Gaziantep, a Turkish province on the border, every day. After they fill their forms for return, they cross into the rebel-held territory on the Syrian side. The Free Syrian Army rebels welcome them and offer them free rides to Jarablus.
Since its start in 2011, the Syrian conflict has evolved into an all-out civil war, from which Turkey has received about 3 million refugees. A small fraction of the refugees stay in modern camps set up in border cities, while the majority live in houses they rent or have bought, often in decrepit, abandoned buildings.
Official border crossings were closed in 2015, barring exceptions in cases such as serious injuries, to prevent a spillover of the conflict and to stem the flood of refugees. Ankara has also been building a wall along the border to curb the cross-border movement of fighters.
Turkey has nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, the largest number of all the countries in the region. It remains a safe haven for displaced Syrians, although the constant threat of violence spilling over the border has forced Ankara to restrict crossings. Turkey is a staunch advocate for the establishment of a safe zone inside Syria for those internally displaced, which would ostensibly prevent attacks on them by the Bashar Assad regime and the Daesh terrorist group, among others. The Cilvegözü border crossing was the scene of a car bombing in 2013 that killed 13 people.
The two crossings were open for entry into Syria until June 23. Returns will be allowed through Öncüpınar until July 14 and through Cilvegözü until Sept. 30, but Turkish authorities reserve the right to change these dates.