Syrians return home for Eid after Turkey opens border
More than 3,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey crossed into Syria on Thursday after Turkish authorities opened the border ahead of the upcoming Eid festival marking the end of Ramadan.
Turkey hosts over three million Syrian refugees who have fled the brutal civil war which began in 2011, and recently allowed those with valid travel documents to return for the Eid al-Fitr holiday beginning on June 25.
Authorities did not provide figures of how many have returned so far, but witnesses told Reuters that thousands have crossed on foot through the Cilvegozu and Oncupinar border gates.
Those choosing to return must return before July 14 and anyone who comes back after that will be treated as a new arrival and subject to the immigration process, a Turkish official told Reuters.
Turkey tightened its border security in 2016 after striking a deal with the European Union to stem the flow of migration, with the government saying it has spent over $25 billion on housing refugees.
Most Syrians, however, live outside of government-built camps and struggle to find employment and make ends meet.
"Sometimes they make you work but they don't pay. Even if they do, it's not enough," Sevsen Um Mustafa told Reuters.
"Even smelling the soil of Aleppo is better than here," said the former Aleppo resident. "I'd rather die there because of war than here because of starvation."
Despite the introduction of work permits for Syrians in 2016, most say opportunities are scarce and wages low.
"Even if I worked for the whole month, I'd have 200-300 liras ($57-$85) left over after paying the rent," said Ali, who was heading home to Afrin in northwest Syria after four years in Turkey.
"I had no rights of leave, no insurance. I was miserable."
Ankara say thousands of Syrians have returned to the war-torn country since towns have been recaptured from Islamic State control.
Turkey launched a military campaign in 2016 to drive Islamic State fighters from its borders, but has in the past faced criticism for failing to stop the flow of militants leaving and entering Syria via Turkey.
It has since strengthened its 900 kilometre Syrian border with minefields, ditches, walls, and fences.