Thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey are returning home to Syria to mark the Islamic festival of Eid al Fitr which commences Tuesday.
Turkey temporarily relaxed controls at the Cilvegozu border crossing in its south-eastern province of Hatay last week, allowing Syrians with foreigner cards—those issued to refugees—to pass into northern Aleppo.
The border will remain open till 5pm local time on July 5, the start of the three-day holiday. Syrians returning to Turkey are obliged to do so before July 8 or face being barred from the country.
Turkey regularly opens the border to allow Syrians to return home for Eid holidays.
Last year, some 13,000 returned to mark the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan with their families, while around 28,000 returned to celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage season.
With over 2.7 million Syrian refugees living along its borders, Turkey has taken in the largest number of people fleeing from the war-torn country. On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Turkey would be offering Syrian refugees an opportunity to apply for citizenship in the host country which would give them access to the job market and health care services.
Around 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since the war broke out in 2011, while around 7 million others remain internally displaced.
Altogether, as much as half of Syria’s pre-war population have been forced out of their homes.
Turkey has long called for the establishment of a buffer zone, to be controlled by Syrian opposition forces, along its border in northern Syria to serve as a safe haven for refugees.
But such plans have been hampered by fierce fighting taking place in the region, with Syrian opposition forces being squeezed on three fronts by Bashar al Assad’s regime forces, DAESH and PKK-affiliated YPG militants.