Syrian refugees: Thousands born in Turkey, thousands leave in sixth year of conflict

In the sixth year of the civil war, Syrians have now finally started returning home en masse to conflict-free areas while new figures show more than 224,000 Syrians were born in Turkey since the war that forced millions to take shelter in Turkey began

Returning home remains a dim prospect for about 3 million Syrian refugees who have taken shelter in Turkey since the civil war broke out in Syria. However, hope has flourished in the past two years for a return, and a Turkish-backed operation by opposition forces further increased returns that now amount to about 50,000 expatriates. For those now calling Turkey home, figures show the number of babies born to displaced Syrian families has reached 224,750 in six years. Since January 2015, about 50,000 Syrians have returned to their country from Turkey. Returns significantly increased especially after Operation Euphrates Shield that was held last year.

Rebels of the Free Syrian Army backed by the Turkish army had managed to wrestle back control of several towns from the terrorist group Daesh in areas close to the Turkish border. Rebuilding is in process in these towns, while daily life has more or less returned to normal, encouraging more Syrians to start over a new life at home. The Öncüpınar border crossing in Turkish province of Kilis is busy with crowds returning home every day. Boarding packed buses, Syrians are escorted to towns liberated from Daesh by rebels.

Muhammad Najjar had to flee Syria with his wife and children two years ago. He was among 100 people waiting at the border crossing on Wednesday to register for returns as Turkish customs officials checked his papers. Najjar told Anadolu Agency (AA) that he was happy to be reuniting with his relatives in Syria and said it was thanks to Turkey's support against terrorists in Syria that this was possible. Mahmoud Issa traveled from as far as Germany, where he settled in three years ago from Jarablus, one of the towns liberated during Euphrates Shield. He says he decided to return as security in the town is "back to normal." More than 44,000 people have returned to the town since the operation started in August, Anadolu Agency reported.

Since its start in 2011, the Syrian conflict has evolved into a full-scale civil war, from which Turkey has received about 3 million refugees. A small fraction of refugees stay in modern camps set up in border cities while the majority live in houses they rent or have bought, or squat in abandoned buildings.

Official border crossings were closed in 2015, barring exceptions in cases such as serious injuries, to prevent a spillover of the conflict and to stem the flood of refugees. Ankara has also been building a wall along the border to curb the cross-border movement of fighters.

Turkey has nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, the largest number of all countries in the region. It remains a safe haven for displaced Syrians, although the constant threat of violence spilling over the border has forced Ankara to restrict crossings. Turkey is a staunch advocate for the establishment of a safe zone inside Syria for those internally displaced, which would ostensibly prevent attacks on them by the Bashar Assad regime and the Daesh terrorist group, among others.

Figures presented by the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), the state-run agency responsible for care of Syrian refugees, show 224,750 children were born in 75 months since the first batch of refugees arrived in Turkey, the safest neighboring country. Turkey covers all maternal health needs for infants and offers free childbirth health services for expectant mothers.

Children make up a substantial portion of the refugee population that fled their devastated country for Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and are among the most vulnerable. Education is a main concern, as displacement forces them to drop out of school, while the scars of the war that killed hundreds of thousands will likely remain with them for the rest of their lives. Turkey provides psychiatric counselling services and education for children in refugee camps along the border, though the camps are home to only a small fraction of the refugees. Some 508,000 Syrian refugee children attend schools outside and inside the refugee camps while 225,000 Syrians are enrolled in vocational training courses. AFAD covers all the basic needs of refugees while Turkish charities regularly deliver aid to the needy families living outside the camps. Turkey also recently granted work permits to refugees whose only means were humanitarian aid.

Championing the international efforts for refugees, Turkey spent more than $25 billion for the wellbeing of refugees, but Ankara criticizes other countries for spending less on humanitarian aid for Syrians and the low numbers of admission granted by European countries for migrants.