ANKARA: Turkiye has begun building 240,000 homes to resettle refugees in opposition-held northern Syria as the repatriation issue takes center stage in Sunday’s presidential election runoff.
“Syrian refugees living in Turkiye will settle in the houses … as part of a dignified, voluntary, safe return,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said at the launch of the project on a disused airstrip on the outskirts of Al-Ghandura, a town in the Jarabulus area near the Turkish border.
Builders with heavy machinery have already started work, and the project is expected to be complete in three years, Soylu said.
Turkiye has offered refuge to more than 3 million people fleeing violence in Syria since war broke out there in 2011. Most have “temporary protection” status, leaving them vulnerable to forced return.
“To date, there have been 554,000 voluntary returns,” Soylu said. “There is a serious demand for a voluntary and dignified return to this safe area.”
Anti-refugee sentiments are running high in Turkiye and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hardened his stance toward people displaced by war as he fights for reelection.
He pledged this month to build 200,000 homes in Syria to resettle a million refugees.
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has pledged to “send all the refugees home” if he wins on Sunday.
Erdogan supported early rebel efforts to topple Bashar Assad, and Ankara maintains a military presence in swaths of northern Syria that angers Damascus.
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive ground operations to expel Kurdish forces from border areas of northern Syria.
Its troops and their Syrian proxies control sections of the border, and Erdogan has long sought to establish a “safe zone” 30 km deep the whole length of the frontier.