Some 60,000 Syrian refugees have returned home in the aftermath of massive earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, according to Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar.
Speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday, Akar claimed the returns were voluntary. “Syrians who lost their homes in the earthquakes have voluntarily returned to their country,” he said. Akar also refuted claims that illegal migrants had crossed the Turkish border in the ensuing chaos after the earthquakes. “All our borders are protected at all times, and we are taking the necessary precautions to prevent illegal migration,” he said.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep – home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria – as people were sleeping on February 6 was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.
Amid the disaster, hundreds of Syrians flocked to the Turkish border with Syria seeking to get back to their war-torn country. However, even before the earthquakes large numbers of Syrians had left the country and, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a total of 201,471 Syrians who were granted temporary protection status in Turkey left in 2022.
Although the Turkish government said these returns were voluntary, migration experts have cast doubt, saying most Syrians did not want to go back.