ISTANBUL: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday that the UN will study Ankara’s plans to repatriate Syrian refugees to a proposed northeastern “safe zone.”
Erdogan presented the UN chief with the Turkish plan for new settlement areas for the return of Syrian refugees during a meeting in Istanbul, the UN said in a statement.
Guterres “stressed the basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees,” it said.
He informed the Turkish leader that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, “will immediately form a team to study the proposal and engage in discussions with Turkish authorities, in line with its mandate,” it added.
Turkey has long pressed for a “safe zone” across its southern border to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it has taken in during the deadly conflict.
It is expected to stretch across a swathe of territory in northeastern Syria which Ankara took control after its latest military campaign on October 9 to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters from the frontier.
Turkish authorities say the “safe zone” could house up to two million refugees but have made clear returns would be on voluntary basis, not forcefully.
However, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in separate reports published last month accused Ankara of forcibly returning Syrians to their war-torn country in the months leading up to the Turkish offensive — charges denied by Ankara.