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Syrian Refugees Who Resettled In Turkey May Have To Move Again


Turkish troops invaded northern Syria after President Trump moved U.S. forces out of their way. And Turkey says it might now send Syrians back over the border into the so-called safe zone it captured. Many of them, though, don't want to go.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: NPR's Peter Kenyon has been talking with young Syrians living on the Turkish border. In the Juno Cafe in the city of Gaziantep, two Syrians - Noor (ph) and Majd (ph) - agreed to talk about their experiences in Turkey if their family names aren't used. Uncertainty is a big part of their lives, and they don't want to make it any easier for authorities to track them down, should it come to that.

Noor says he really has no idea what lies ahead because Turkey has given no indication of when or how it plans to send some 1 to 2 million Syrians back across the border out of some 4 million-plus here now. How, Noor wonders, will they decide who gets to stay and who must leave?

NOOR: Because when you are talking, you are talking also about 3 - 4 million people. We don't know if they're going to, like, have as, like, optional or they are going to have some lists and they have to do that. So I don't know what's going to happen because there's no clear information.

KENYON: Majd says she's been lucky enough to find a circle of Turkish friends who are understanding and supportive. But she can't help hearing and seeing in the media the growing calls to move the Syrians back. She thinks the downturn in Turkey's economy has built resentment toward refugees.

MAJD: Yeah, I think the welcoming - like, yeah it is decreasing because Turkey is already having a hard situation, hard economics in the latest year. So in this struggle, I mean, having as much refugees - it's just, like, another heavy lift, let's say, that they can do without.

KENYON: The owner of the cafe is also Syrian, though not a refugee. Yashar Kassar founded an organization called Syriability, which offers young Syrians space to meet and discuss the situation back home and help each other with the challenges of living in another country. Kassar is British Syrian and in no danger of being sent to Syria, but it's not hard for him to imagine how devastating such a move could be for a teenager or young adult, especially those who aren't from northeastern Syria.

YASHAR KASSAR: Yeah, absolutely. For me, I'm from Damascus. And if they send me to Homs, I'll be a total stranger in Homs. And if you send me to the safe zone, actually (ph) it's like - as if you're sending me to a new country.

KENYON: Majd says everyone she knows is grateful to Turkey for taking them in. But the reality is most of these people have worked extraordinarily hard for very little money to scratch out a life for their families. And now many have children who speak only Turkish.

MAJD: I mean, for people who are coming out of work, doing all of this effort in a very limited income, I mean, and just start to blend in the community and then, like, just push them back in the country - I mean, that's harsh. I think that's harsh.

KENYON: At a restaurant in another part of Gaziantep, a young Syrian woman named Amal (ph) sipped tea and agrees that the safe zone does sound dismal - a few villages near the border with no infrastructure or work opportunities to speak of. She's one of the lucky Syrians who found work here, but she's still not comfortable giving her last name. She says possibly Syrians who own property inside the safe zone might go back, but she can't imagine anyone else wanting to go.

AMAL: Actually many people, they don't think to go back. Some people saying, like - OK, I will go to Europe; it's more safe for me. I never heard like someone say - OK, I will go back. Maybe my grandfather, because he has fields there, he will say - OK, I will go back. But not the young generation - they seeing (ph) their future here, not in Syria, for time being at least.

KENYON: But Amal knows it may not be up to the Syrians because Turkey has other tools it could use, such as revoking work permits. That could force Syrians to move on. But even then, she doubts many would choose to go back to Syria - not yet.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Gaziantep, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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