Syrian refugees in Turkey: A political tool in a time of crisis

i24NEWS - AFP

3 min read
10-year-old Dalaa Hadidi, a Syrian refugee, in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, on February 26, 2021.
OZAN KOSE / AFP10-year-old Dalaa Hadidi, a Syrian refugee, in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, on February 26, 2021.

Turkey's 3.7 million Syrian refugees have no appetite to go back home, and plans to return them are unfeasible

Turkey's large Syrian refugee population has become a political football as an economic crisis overshadows next year's presidential election and parties spar over sending them back to their war-torn homeland.

Millions of Syrians settled in neighboring Turkey after 2012, with a 2016 deal with the European Union offering Ankara incentives for taking them in.

With the lira's value tumbling to historic lows and annual inflation at a two-decade high – aggravated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – the refugee question regularly marks political debate.

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But analysts told AFP that Turkey's 3.7 million Syrian refugees have no appetite to go back home and that plans to return them to Syria are unfeasible. 

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to encourage the refugees' "voluntary" return, pledging to build more infrastructure in a Syrian region where Ankara has troops.

Ankara already inaugurated several thousand briquette houses in the Idlib region – the last opposition bastion in northwestern Syria – to facilitate the return of Syrians to "safe zones" along the border. 

At the same time, the Turkish leader vowed to "protect... our brothers who fled the war and took refuge in our country,” refusing to throw them into the "lap of murderers.”

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His comments ran contrary to the radical argument of the main opposition Republican People's Party, whose leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu promised to send Syrians back if elected in 2023.

Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of seeking to "naturalize the refugees in exchange for their vote,” while the extreme right-wing Victory Party denounced a "silent invasion" by migrants.

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