After nearly two-year closure, Turkish border crossing opens to hundreds of Syrians

AMMAN: Hundreds of Syrians residing in Turkey are temporarily re-entering their home country for the Eid holiday on Tuesday, as Turkish authorities reopen a northern Aleppo border crossing for the first time in nearly two years.

In all, up to 50,000 Syrians are expected to pass through the Bab a-Salama crossing that connects northern Syria with Turkey's Kilis province over the next 10 days, two sources told Syria Direct. The brief, one-month re-entry into Syria allows families separated by the war to reunite—many for the first time in years—for the Eid holiday, a multi-day festivity celebrating the end of Ramadan.

The Bab a-Salama border crossing has been closed to civilians since at least October, 2015. At the time, Islamic State (IS) forces held territory near the crossing, which led to its closure to civilian traffic by Turkish authorities.

The temporary reopening of the crossing comes just months after Ankara-backed rebels expelled IS from the north Aleppo countryside.

 People wait to enter Syria via the Bab a-Salama crossing on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Abdul Karim Yahia.

“It was because of the IS presence that the border crossing had been closed to civilians for more than two years,” Shadi Khalil, a local council member in the city of Azaz, 5km south of Bab a-Salama, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

With Bab a-Salama closed, Syrians residing in the Turkish border cities of Kilis and Gaziantep had no option other than to travel more than 100km to Bab al-Hawa, previously the only border crossing connecting northern Syria to Turkey.

Once inside the country, Syrians trying to reach northern Aleppo then had to travel through Kurdish-controlled territory, facing high transit fees along the way, multiple sources told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

In total, the trip could take up to three days, and “was so difficult that it led many people to rule out the prospect of visiting their relatives,” Abdul Karim Yahia, a north Aleppo resident now living in Turkey, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

When he spoke with Syria Direct, Yahia was waiting on the Turkish side of the Bab a-Salama crossing alongside hundreds of other Syrians preparing to travel to Azaz.

“I’m celebrating that I can finally visit my family and bring my elderly mother and father to see their relatives in Syria,” Yahia said. “When the journey was so long, how could you possibly think of bringing children, the elderly or the sick with you?”

Border authorities announced the re-opening of the Bab a-Salama border crossing on Friday. Syrians living in Turkey may re-enter their home country for less than $1 between June 13 and June 23 and return to Turkey between June 28 and July 14.

In comparison, the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which enters into Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, is open for a three-month period.

After July 14, the Bab a-Salama crossing is expected to shut down once again to civilian traffic, permitting only the authorized crossing of trade vehicles or humanitarian missions.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Justin Schuster

Justin was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from Yale University with a double major in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. While at Yale, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the political journal, The Politic. His previous work and research in the Middle East includes time spent in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, and the West Bank.

Lina Eghzawi

Originally from Daraa, Lina studied Literature at Damascus University. She moved to Jordan in 2012 and completed a degree in interior design.