ALEPPO, Syria — Thousands of Syrians living in Turkey have been entering the countryside of Aleppo since May 18 for Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
They are traveling through the Bab al-Salamah crossing north of the city of Azaz, as well as through the Jarablus crossing, north of that city on the Syrian-Turkish border. Over the past few days, the number of people wishing to cross into Syria after the academic year in Turkey ended has significantly increased, reaching 2,500-3,000 people daily.
Hassan Alito, a media official at the Bab al-Salamah crossing, told Al-Monitor that 24,000 people had entered the area coming from Turkey and the number is expected to reach 50,000 in the coming days. The Bab al-Salamah crossing opened May 18, will remain open until June 13 and will be reopened for Syrians to return to Turkey from June 26 to July 6.
According to Alito, entering Syria is now very easy since the immigration department in Kilis in southern Turkey launched a website May 15 allowing Syrians who wish to spend Eid al-Fitr in Syria to register, and the website notifies them of the date on which they can pass through the crossing.
The booking method at the Jarablus crossing is similar. The Gaziantep immigration department also launched a website May 22 allowing Syrians residing in Turkey to book the date on which they can pass through.
Muhammad Abu Sharfou, general supervisor of the Jarablus crossing, told Al-Monitor, “Syrians started entering through the crossing on May 23 and will continue to do so until June 13. They can return to Turkey between June 26 and Sept. 14. Entry is permitted only to holders of the Temporary Protection Card [Kemalak] granted by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey.”
He added, “Turkey will not allow those with [just] a tourist or a work permit, or those naturalized, to pass through either the crossings at Jarablus or Bab al-Salamah.”
He estimated that about 8,000 Syrians in Turkey have crossed at Jarablus, and their number is expected to reach 20,000.
Measures have been taken at the Bab al-Salamah crossing to organize the process. Buses that seat 50 passengers each take people from the Turkish side to the Syrian side, where their names are registered and their documents stamped. The buses, owned by the Bab al-Salamah crossing and operated by its employees, then transport the travelers to stops near Azaz, where they can find vehicles to reach their destinations.
Ghayath al-Najjar, who works as a tailor in Turkey, had just arrived at the immigration department at the Bab al-Salamah crossing, accompanied by his wife and three children. He told Al-Monitor, “We waited for over two hours at the Turkish side of the crossing until we were able to get through, but one could say the process is going smoothly and we haven't faced any problems. We hope to have a great Eid vacation after being away for three years.”
Qasim al-Qasim, the crossing's director, expects a large increase in the number of Syrians wishing to spend the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Syria. He told Al-Monitor that perhaps the improved security situation in the Euphrates Shield area — now controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — will encourage families to come back and stay. Crossing authorities are interested to see how many families actually return to Turkey after Eid.
Qasim explained that the Bab al-Salamah crossing administration put all its cadres on standby to help Syrians pass through and provided 20 buses to transport them to stops. The crossing administration, in coordination with the Turkish side, will do its best to avoid congestion when Syrians return to Turkey after Eid, he noted.
Hassam Hafez and his family of five were passing through the crossing when he told Al-Monitor, “This will be a permanent vacation. I am never going back to Turkey. I am from Marea in Aleppo’s northern countryside, and it is a safe, FSA-controlled area now. … The past couple of years were hard for me and my family; we suffered with the high cost of living in Turkey, and there were not many job opportunities.”
There are three crossings with Turkey in northern Syria open to Syrians wishing to spend Eid al-Fitr in Syria. In addition to Jarablus and Bab al-Salamah in the northern countryside of Aleppo, the Bab al-Hawa crossing in Idlib governorate has already welcomed thousands of Syrians crossing from Turkey for the holiday, and their numbers are expected to reach 25,000.