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Turkey, Jordan agree to cooperate in the voluntary return of Syria refugees

Zaatari refugee camp, the world's largest camp for Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan, on 21 September 2021 [NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images]
Zaatari refugee camp, the world's largest camp for Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan, on 21 September 2021 [NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images]

Turkey and Jordan have agreed to work together to encourage the voluntary return of Syrian refugees living in those countries, in an apparent attempt to ease the presence of millions of the refugees who they have hosted over the past decade.

Speaking at a joint press conference in the capital, Ankara, this week, Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, and his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, reiterated the agreement to cooperate in the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.

Drawing on Ankara and Amman's strong bilateral ties, Cavusoglu emphasised that they both face the challenge of hosting millions of refugees from neighbouring Syria and that they both hold the same view on other regional issues such as Israel's occupation and suppression of Palestinians.

Cavusoglu expressed Turkey's aim to "host a conference on the ministerial level on this issue" of the voluntary return of Syrian refugees, adding that "We will continue our cooperation with international institutions such as the United Nations and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation."

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the ensuing conflict in the country, millions of Syrians fled either to Turkey – mainly in order to reach mainland Europe – or to other states in the region such as Lebanon and Jordan. Over a decade later, Jordan still hosts around 1.3 million Syrian refugees while Turkey hosts almost 4 million.

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As the fighting has largely died down in most of Syria and the regime of Bashar Al-Assad has recaptured much of the country, Ankara and Amman are now expectedly seeking a solution to the settlement of Syrian refugees. Any return of the refugees, they and the international community maintain, must be voluntary and not forced.

There are suspicions that that has not been the case, however. Despite the Turkish government's granting of citizenship to over 193,000 Syrians, there have emerged reports that Turkish authorities have forcibly deported over 155,000 Syrian refugees to northern Syria over the past few years in a secretive campaign, while claiming they were "voluntary" returns.

Such a campaign – if true – comes at a time when the discontent many Turks feel towards Syrian refugees is at an all-time high, especially after communal tensions caused a fight to break out between local Turks and Syrian refugees in Ankara's Altindag district last year, which resulted in a young Turkish man being stabbed to death and Syrian businesses being destroyed.

Such tensions have led to the government implementing a maximum quota of 25 percent foreigners being allowed to live in each district.

In Jordan, too, its Prime Minister warned in 2019 that Syrian refugees in the country have no intention of returning to their home country and that most of them "have no intentions of going back any time soon."

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Europe & RussiaJordanMiddle EastNewsSyriaTurkey
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