Refugees in the southern Turkish province of Hatay have started returning to areas of northern Syria where the introduction of de-escalation zones has led to relative stability, state-run Anadolu Agency has reported.
Refugees originally 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. I hope the Turkish soldiers do a good job there,” Keyha said.
“Turkey will always be our second home,” he added.
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 said.
Shadi Mohamed Abdelselam, another refugee from Idlib who has spent the last four years in Turkey, said: “Now I’ll go back to my country. If the cease-fire holds, I’ll bring my wife and parents back too,” he said.
“Most Syrian refugees just want to go back to their homes and live in peace,” he added.
Since 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in Syria and more than 10 million displaced, according to the U.N. Over 3 million Syrians are currently living in Turkey.