Syria: Turkey to return one million refugees to Idlib
Turkey is drafting plans to return one million Syrian refugees to northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, under plans to build housing and provide services in regions held by Turkish-backed forces in the country.
Erdogan made the remarks in a video message on Tuesday as Ankara delivered more briquette houses to Syrians living in rebel-held Idlib.
The Turkish government, with the help of the local and international NGOs, aims to build 100,000 such houses to shelter Syrians fleeing the forces of Bashar al-Assad's government.
Erdogan said in his remarks that half a million Syrians have settled back in parts of Turkish-controlled Syria.
“We are backing up our strategy with projects to encourage the returns,” he said. “We are preparing a project to realise our one million Syrian brothers' return."
Erdogan added that Ankara will implement the project with the local assemblies in 13 regions, including Azaz, Al Bab and Tal Abyad. “All infrastructure projects, from housing to hospitals, everything regarding daily life will be in this project,” he said.
Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees and 1.7 million other foreign nationals. It is also in the grips of a currency crisis.
Last summer saw a spate of communal violence in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara as Syrian businesses and refugees were attacked.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has spearheaded the increasingly hostile anti-Syrian rhetoric. Despite his left-liberal political stance, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has promised to send Syrians back to their country if elected president in 2023.
Umit Ozdag, a right-wing politician and the chairman of the Victory Party, has created a media buzz in recent months by promising to send millions of Syrian, Afghans and Pakistanis back to their countries.
Erdogan, who just a few weeks ago declared that he would never send Syrians back, now talks about their "honourable” return, with Turkey approaching presidential elections next year.
Middle East Eye reported in February that Turkey closed 16 provinces to new arrivals of foreign residents, including refugees, and will relocate Syrians from districts where they make up more than 25 percent of the population.
This week, the government also banned Syrian refugees who live in Turkey from travelling to northern Syria for Eid al-Fitr, due to public criticism over them being allowed to travel freely back and forth.
Opposition politicians argued that if the Syrians are able to travel to Syria they should remain there.
Currently, the government only issues permits for Syrians who visit the country for funerals or want to permanently resettle in northern Syria.