Yearning for Syria, Tal Abyad refugees take the risk and go home
They acknowledge the risk of further violence, fear jihadists could seek to retake their home town and worry their possessions have been destroyed.
But the moment the fighting stopped, many refugees from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad could think of nothing other than going home.
Syrian Kurdish-led forces took full control of Tal Abyad on Tuesday after several days of intense fighting with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, which sparked an exodus of more than 23,000 refugees into neighbouring Turkey.
But scores of women, elderly people and children carrying their possessions crossed back into Syria through the Turkish border post of Akcakale on Wednesday.
Some flashed the V-sign to journalists trying to film their return under the watchful eye of the police.
Many say they wanted to be home for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which starts this week.
“It’s not so good here… It’s not like home,” 40-year-old farmer Mahmud said, carrying a sack on his head.
“We want to spend our holy Ramadan in our homeland. We have been looking forward to it,” he said, adding that he decided to return after speaking to his brother in Tal Abyad who said life has gone back to normal.
“In my haste I left the water pump running and I wonder what happened to my agriculture equipment which is worth thousands of dollars,” he said with a worried expression.
Ahmed el-Badran, who said he just turned 90, complained he was bitter about having his birthday far from his home, which he left with his sons and grandchildren four days ago.
“Maybe it would have been better for me to stay in my village, despite what was happening there.
“But my children didn’t let me stay behind,” said Badran, who has been ill since his arrival in Akcakale.
“I was afraid of dying far from my land, but thank goodness I’m returning now,” he said as his children carried him on a cart.
“As soon as I learnt that I could return home, I felt better. No words can describe how it feels.”
– ‘Maybe lost everything’ –
Tal Abyad is just over the border from Akcakale but the flat topography means only a small amount of the town is visible from the Turkish side.
Sometimes Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters can be seen patrolling along a fence where their flags are flying.
Trucks from Turkish emergency agency AFAD and and other aid groups meanwhile deliver food on the Turkish side to the refugees crossing into Syria.
A long queue forms by a truck distributing milk, fruit juice, sandwiches and diapers to the refugees.
Housewife Fahriye Behedi, 40, said she was afraid of air strikes from the US-led coalition and that IS could come back and try and retake the town.
“I’m returning, I left my husband there. But I’m still very afraid of the bombs, how would someone not be afraid of bombs? she said.
“When I heard the noises coming from the planes, it was very scary,” said Behedi, clad in black.
“Our lives were saved, but we may have lost everything. I don’t know if my two-storey house is still standing. I’m ready to be displaced again.”
By early evening, around 400 people had returned to Tal Abyad, Turkish police said, a small but significant number out of 23,000 who had crossed over since the start of the fighting.
But not all the predominately ethnic Arab refugees from the town are eager to go home and some express alarm about how life will be under Kurdish rule.
Turkey has accused the YPG of carrying out ethnic cleansing to create a fully Kurdish region on its borders. But the group has slammed such claims as “unfounded slander”
Seyh Deham Haseki, 60, also a farmer, said he won’t return unless the Kurds are gone, describing the IS as a “much lesser evil compared to the Kurdish militants.”
“We won’t accept the Kurds because this isn’t their land. It has always been the Arab’s land. We will stand against them until the very end,” he said.
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