The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has unveiled a "roadmap" for the return of Syrian refugees, including safe zones and government-controlled areas. The plan has been prepared following a meeting in Moscow earlier this month between the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian regime.
Relations between Turkey and the Syrian regime will be developed as part of the plan, in coordination with the defence and intelligence ministries of the four countries. They emphasised the "voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees to their homeland."
In an interview with Haber Turk TV channel, Turkiye's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasised that the issue of Syrian refugees has become an "electoral tool", but it should not be resolved by the kind of "populism" endorsed by opposition groups. Practical solutions are required, he insisted.
"Around 550,000 Syrians have returned to their country, and this is not enough," explained Cavusoglu. "More of them must return. We have entered into a dialogue with the regime in this regard and we have decided to establish the infrastructure for this return." This, he added, prompted him to go to Moscow for the quadripartite meeting to discuss the issue of refugees before the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkiye held last weekend.
"We are developing a roadmap that also includes reviving the political process, cleansing Syria from terrorism, and ensuring the safe return of refugees. Syrians do not want to return to areas where terrorism exists, such as the areas under the control of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Syrian Kurds refuse to return to due to the control of the [People's Defence Units, the YPG], not only areas under the control of Daesh/ISIS."
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The minister stressed that return without cooperation with the regime is not correct. "Ensuring the safety of the returnees must be guaranteed, and the UN should be involved in this phase. Moreover, the EU and the international community should support the roadmap."
More Syrians must be returned to the safe areas and areas under Assad's control, added Cavusoglu. He pointed out that there are agreements in place with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. "The return of the Assad regime to the Arab League is a beneficial factor at this stage."
The timeline for the refugees' return covers a period for the construction of essential facilities. Some Arab states, said the Turkish minister, are backing this.
The issue of Syrian refugees was used by candidates in the Turkish elections, with the right-wing opposition exploiting it to attract votes. Official figures confirm that 3.5 million Syrians are registered in Turkiye for temporary protection, but the opposition claims that the number is ten million and demands their immediate deportation. Scaremongering has seen claims that another 10-20 million Syrians might arrive in Turkey, according to a video released by presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Saturday.
Cavusoglu discussed this in his TV interview, as well as Kilicdaroglu's allegation that Russia is interfering in the Turkish elections. "We asked Kilicdaroglu whether he has any evidence that supports his claims," said the minister, "and asked him to provide any information he knows in this regard." The response was that it was merely "an impression," he revealed. "The opposition leader should be more serious when touching on such issues."
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