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Turkey helps Syrian Kurds returning home

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The state-run Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) coordinates the return of Syrians.

Syrian Kurds from Kobani, a town near the Syrian-Turkish border, have started returning home as Kurdish forces repelled ISIS from the area. Turkey, which was the only host for desperate Syrians after they were displaced last year, helped ensure a safe return for Kobani residents

Kobani saw violent clashes last year between the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which was trying to take over the town, and Kurdish forces. Some 200,000 residents fled to Turkey in the north, the nearest country where some of their relatives live and where Syrian refugees receive the most help.

Kurdish forces largely expelled ISIS militants from the town last month, but sporadic clashes continue in the vicinity of the town.

Kobani residents sheltered in Turkey were desperately awaiting the withdrawal or expulsion of ISIS militants who launched a violent offensive to capture the town in September. They are worried that the continuing clashes and U.S.-led coalition force’s airstrikes targeting ISIS may prolong the conflict and delay their return.

Encouraged by calm in areas near the Turkish border, Syrian Kurds have gradually returned home. About 6,000 people crossed into Kobani from Turkey thus far and this number will likely increase in the coming days. Authorities said a group of 1,000 people crossed into Syria yesterday from Mürşitpınar, a border crossing in the Turkish town of Suruç situated across from Kobani.

The state-run Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) coordinates the return of Syrians. Returnees are registered or “sign off” at a center on the border set up by AFAD.

Ali Hamza is one of the returnees. “Everything was good in Turkey, but we always thought about returning to Kobani one day,” he told Anadolu Agency. Emine Abdullah, another returnee, thanked Turkey for helping them, although she hopes that they will not be forced to leave home again.

Abdullah Çiftçi, the district governor of Suruç, said the crossing was occasionally closed down due to the ongoing civil war in Syria, but was kept open for returnees. “We expect the number of people returning to increase as spring approaches. Some people walk while others travel here by car. They want to check their homes, their land, and we understand their concerns about what happened to them in the clashes. We try to help them as much as possible and facilitate their crossing,” he told reporters.

Displaced Kobani residents have been accommodated at Turkey’s biggest refugee camp, which was opened last month in Suruç, a district in Şanlıurfa province situated across from Kobani. The camp built by AFAD has a capacity of 35,000 people. It was built exclusively for those from the predominantly Kurdish town and most of its 7,000 residents are women and children. Although the camp offers them a daily life resembling the one back home, they are still looking forward to returning home.

Kobani is currently controlled by several Kurdish factions, which declared victory against ISIS last month. The town’s administration plans to issue a call to residents who took shelter in other countries in the coming months. Turkish media outlets reported that families will not be encouraged to return during the rebuilding process. Instead, people skilled in construction, technicians, maintenance workers and other individuals with relevant skills will be called to return to help with the process. The Kobani administration also plans to convert the areas affected most by the clashes into an open-air museum and build new settlements in land south of Kobani for the returnees.

Resource: Daily Sabah, February 26, 2015

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