Syrian quake victims being sent ‘home’ from Turkey for burial

More than 1,000 Syrians who died in Turkey have been sent back for burial, but those from al-Assad-controlled areas can’t return.

Men on a truck checking the name tags on shrouded bodies
Family members and volunteers checking the names on the bodies [Tessa Fox/Al Jazeera]

Cilvegözü, Turkey – The most common sight going through southern Turkey’s Cilvegözü crossing to Bab al-Hawa through to Syria’s Idlib is sadly the same pick-up truck transporting the bodies of Syrians killed in the earthquakes in Turkey so they can be buried back home.

Since two huge earthquakes (magnitude 7.8 and 7.6) and hundreds of aftershocks destroyed much of 10 provinces in southeastern Turkey, 1,413 Syrians have returned to their home country in body bags as of Wednesday morning.

Most, if not all, of those passing through Bab al-Hawa had been living in Hatay province, which has arguably seen the worst devastation in Turkey.

Man holding a body bag with the remains of an eight-month-old baby
Some of the bags were very small, like this one with an eight-month-old child inside [Tessa Fox/Al Jazeera]

A municipality truck waits, it spends the day crossing the border to unload the bodies, then loops back to Turkey to pick up more.

Every five minutes, it seems, a new vehicle arrives at the departure point where the municipality truck waits. They can carry up to 10 bodies – some bags seem to have more than one person inside and there was one that Al Jazeera saw of a child who was only eight months old.

Some bodies are brought in cars by their families or friends. They pull them out of the boot of the car and carry them over to the municipality truck that will take them home.

Father trying to explain to his young son that his mother is in the body bag on the truck
This father tried to explain to his young son that his mother was the shrouded body on the truck, encouraging him to say goodbye to her [Tessa Fox/Al Jazeera]

A van belonging to a baby furniture shop, colourfully decorated with decals, backs up and unloads another group of bodies onto the truck.

Those family members who live in Turkey had to say their final goodbyes to loved ones on the back of the truck, due to Turkey not allowing Syrian nationals to re-enter if they cross the border.

However, as of February 15, according to the Syrian Bab al-Hawa Office, Turkey will permit all Syrians living in the 10 provinces affected by the earthquake, to cross the border for a period of up to three months before returning.

Hundreds more victims from Syrian regime-held areas have been laid to rest in Turkey considering they, even in death, cannot cross the frozen front line to the villages they once fled from.

Thousands of people are still trapped under the rubble across the affected provinces.

More than a week after the quakes, parts of the cities have started to smell of death, with the death toll in Turkey crossing 35,000 and close to 6,000 in Syria.

Colourful baby gear van pulls up to unload dead bodies
The incongruous sight of body bags being unloaded from a van usually used to deliver baby furniture [Tessa Fox/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera