Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reiterated his vow that a million Syrian refugees will soon return to their country on a voluntary basis, as their continued presence in Turkiye continues to be subject to contentious social and political debate.
In a speech to the Turkish Parliament on Saturday, Erdogan stated that “Since the start of our cross-border operations in Syria [in 2016], around 526,000 volunteers have returned to the safe zones that we established.”
The “safe zones” he referred to are the areas captured by the Turkish military and its allied opposition groups in northern Syria over the past six years, in which Ankara has built housing, local infrastructure, and medical and educational facilities.Over the past few years, discontent has grown in much of Turkish society around the issue of refugees, especially those from Syria who number around 3.7 million within the country.
After inter-communal tensions and clashes between the Turks and some Syrian refugees took place this year, that discontent has only increased, making the presence of refugees a key factor to address for any party or candidate running for the Turkish general election in 2023.
In an attempt to stave off the advances of opposition parties which have guaranteed they will indefinitely deport all refugees if they are elected to power, Erdogan has vowed to settle the matter and drive a voluntary return of at least one million Syrian refugees back to their country, particularly to the safe zones in the north.
Concerns amongst refugees and human rights activists have grown recently, however, after reports emerged earlier this year asserting that Turkish authorities have forcibly deported over hundreds of thousands Syrian refugees to Syria over the years.