Ankara: Turkey is making plans to send one million Syrian refugees home as public hostility to their presence in the country is escalating.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey is building homes and public facilities in parts of Syria held by Turkish-backed forces to support the new plan of encouraging the voluntary return of the one million refugees, reports Xinhua news agency.
Making the remarks in a video message to a Turkish-sponsored residential construction project in Idlib, a rebel-held province of Syria, Erdogan said some 500,000 Syrians have already returned to “safe regions” in their home country in recent years.
Erdogan’s repatriation talks came after he vowed in mid-March not to send Syrians back despite mounting public unease at almost 4 million Syrian refugees taking shelter in the country.
Last week, Turkey banned Syrian refugees it has hosted from travelling back to Syria for Eid al-Fitr, in what seemed a first-ever shift from its “open door” refugee policy for Syrians since the outbreak of their country’s civil war in 2011.
However, the Turkish decision of voluntary repatriation remains problematic, as the present security conditions in Syria are not conducive for them to rebuild a life, experts said.
“There are still clashes in certain parts of north Syria, and it is not favourable for the Syrians to return at this point,” Metin Corabatir, an expert on refugee issues, told Xinhua.
As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Turkey is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone to a place where they would be at risk, said Corabatir, head of the Ankara-based Research Centre on Asylum and Migration.
Turkey hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees in the world, in addition to several hundred thousand asylum seekers of other nationalities, mainly from neighbouring countries.
The sheer number of refugees has become Turkey’s headache over the years, while they have been increasingly blamed for many of the country’s social and economic ills.
Turkey is currently in the grip of an economic crisis as consumer prices accelerated to an annual rate of almost 70 per cent in April, the highest in over two decades.
“Since the start of Turkey’s economic hardships in 2018 there is an intensifying opposition to Syrians, people believe that we are robbing them of their jobs and wealth,” Wahid, a 34-year-old Syrian migrant told Xinhua.
A study carried out by Turkish-German University Migration and Integration Research Centre shows that over 70 per cent of Turkish respondents have a “negative perception” of Syrians in general.
But 77.8 per cent of Syrian respondents said they were not planning to return to Syria, according to the survey.
Wahid said he has been living and working illegally in Turkey’s capital city Ankara for over eight years, and none of his close family is taking steps to return home.
He said he wanted to return but could not see a safe future for his family in Syria.