Syrian Refugees: The journey home: Families head for Aleppo province after years in Turkey
For years, Turkey has been home to three and a half million Syrians who fled the conflict. In 2016 and again this year, Turkish forces and Islamist militants invaded northern Syria, sparking an exodus of many of the local Kurdish residents. Now Turkey is sending refugees to go and live there. CGTN's Natalie Carney joined two families leaving the life they have known for the last three years in Istanbul as they headed to Aleppo Province.
It's a day full of mixed emotions for Yehya Omar Shughour and his two young boys. With bags packed, they leave the house they've called home for the last three years, never to return. The Istanbul Municipality of Esenyurt has arranged to take Yehya, his sons and another family of 6 back to Syria. Last month the Esenyurt municipality facilitated the repatriation of 35 Syrians to Afrin and Jarabulus following recent Turkish military operations in Northern Syria to clear the area of "terrorist elements".
ALI MURAT ALATEPE ESENYURT MAYOR "There is a proverb in Turkish 'They put the nightingale in a golden cage, it still craved for its country'. If you put the bird in a cage, it still wants to be free. We are treating them very well but they have their own country.”
While many Syrians feel it is now safe enough to return, others are not so convinced and others still want to continue with the life they have built in Turkey. The families share emotional "goodbyes" to those close to them staying in Turkey.
There is a lot of excitement as the 14 hour across Turkey to the Syrian border begins. Mohammed was only 8 when he arrived in Turkey.
MOHAMMED SHUGHOUR SYRIAN REFUGEE RETURNING HOME "I miss Syria, I miss my people. I miss my friends. I miss my grandpa's house. I will go say 'hi' to my uncles, kiss their hands."
The bus stops for us to stretch our legs and the kids to get in some play, then off we go again.
NATALIE CARNEY CENTRAL ANATOLIA "We've been travelling for 6 hours now. We've just passed the Turkish capital Ankara. We still have 8-9 hours ahead of us. Despite that spirits are still high. These families have not been back to Syria in more than 3 years. They have not seen their families, their homes, and of course, a lot has changed in the country during that time, so anxiety is building of what awaits them on the other side of the border."
Yehya's house was completely destroyed, while Mohammed doesn't know what's come of his house in Aleppo.
MOHAMMED AMINE SYRIAN REFUGEE "I miss my country. I want to go back to Syria because my family is there, my father is there and my mother is there and my father is very ill. Every time I call, they ask when we're coming and I keep saying in the next few days next months. Of course, when you're away from the country for 3 years, you'll see new things, things that have changed."
Come morning we will be at the Öncüpınar border crossing, the last stop in Turkey on their journey home.
According to Turkish officials, more than 150,000 Syrians have returned in the past 20 months and in a few hours, these two families can be added to those numbers. Natalie Carney, CGTN, Central Anatolia.