Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on Tuesday, May 3, that his government is working on a project to repatriate almost one quarter of the Syrian refugees living in the country. He was speaking in a video-conference organized to handover keys of houses built illegally by Turkey inside Syrian territory in Idlib to repatriated refugees.
Erdogan claimed that most of the repatriated refugees will be settled in over 100,000 houses that will be built by his government in collaboration with NGOs and local committees in areas such as Azaz, Al Bab, Tal Abyad, Ras al Ayn, and others in Syria’s Idlib province.
Idlib is Syria’s last rebel-held province. The rebels are backed by Turkey. Turkish forces invaded and captured a large part of Idlib directly in 2016 and 2019, claiming to create a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees returning home.
Erdogan said that since 2016, nearly 500,000 Syrians have returned to these areas. He claimed that Turkey has built nearly 57,000 houses for 50,000 families since 2016.
“Türkiye is preparing a new project that would enable the voluntary return of 1 million Syrian refugees to their country,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the inauguration ceremony of new houses built in Idlib in northern Syria pic.twitter.com/czN7IwMf6f
— TRT World (@trtworld) May 3, 2022
Erdogan declared that at least a million Syrian refugees would be “encouraged to repatriate” to Syria.
According to TRT, there are over four million refugees in Turkey. Of these, nearly 3.7 million are Syrian refugees. Turkey has provided citizenship to nearly 175,000 Syrians between 2011 and 2021.
Nearly half of Syria’s pre-war population of nearly 20 million was forced to flee the country due to the war which began in 2011. Though a significant number of them have returned to Syria in the last couple of years, the majority of these refugees are still being forced to live in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, as well as some European countries.
Many political parties in Turkey have blamed the refugees for the rising economic problems in the country. They have also blamed them for “destroying local culture.” The Syrian refugees and their businesses are often attacked by right-wing forces in Turkey.
According to a survey published in February this year, the majority of Turkish people want Syrians to leave the country and go back home.
Most of the main opposition parties have blamed the Erdogan government’s so-called “open door policy” towards refugees from Syria for the situation and want their repatriation.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has promised to repatriate all Syrian refugees if elected to power in next year’s election. Similar stances have been taken by the ruling Justice and Development party’s (AKP) allies such as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Syrians have increasingly become favourite scapegoat of practically all political persuasions in Turkey. https://t.co/OB1uJjSYC9
— Monica Marks (@MonicaLMarks) May 4, 2022
Given the rising xenophobia, the AKP government wants to reduce the number of Syrian refugees in the country before the crucial elections next year, fearing a popular backlash otherwise. This has led to allegations of forced repatriation of refugees and criticism of Erdogan’s plan to resettle refugees in Idlib.
Amid a worsening economic situation in Turkey and rising unemployment, Syrian refugees in Turkey have suffered increasing discrimination, with some being rounded up and arbitrarily deported to war zones in Syria by Turkish authorities. https://t.co/T8xSaaCr91
— Donatella Rovera (@DRovera) May 2, 2022
A large number of Syrian refugees are not willing to go back to their homes as the war in Syria is not yet over. Idlib in particular is the most vulnerable place for Syrian refugees to return to because it is an active war zone.