How a Turkish town became an example for harmony among natives and refugees

A sleepy little town in Turkey on a hot plain near the Syrian border, Kilis, has embraced refugees from across the border and the changes they have brought with them. Over the past decade, 3.6 million Syrians have settled in Turkey, and the population of Kilis has doubled in size, to about 200,000 people.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged citizens to treat Syrians escaping the war as guests, and Turkish citizens responded by accepting the newcomers and extending hospitality. However, in the years that followed, due to several economic and social challenges, some conflicts emerged among Turks and the Syrian refugees.

Kilis is an unusual place where Turks and Syrians speak well of each other and minor mishaps and inconveniences are mostly overlooked. This could be because many people in  Kilis, just 30 miles north of the Syrian city of Aleppo, had relations with Syrians before the war.

Both sides have benefited with the influx of Syrians, who opened bakeries making the flat bread they ate back home and introduced roast chicken restaurants. Turks, who have always favored grilled meat, kebabs and meatballs, abstained at first but now have adopted the new fare as their own. Syrian favorites such as hummus and falafel have expanded Turkish menus.

The arrival of the Syrians also set off a building boom and brought investment that has transformed the city. Syrians renovated much of the old city center, opening small shops and businesses, and expanding the open-air markets for fruit, vegetables and livestock.

Syrian children are now integrated into Turkish government schools, and intermarriage has become increasingly common with the two communities socializing together.

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