Turkey’s foreign minister says his government is working with the UN refugee agency to repatriate Syrians. He also called on the international community to address the challenges of global migration.
The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has said that Turkey is working with the UNHCR on a plan to repatriate refugees to Syria. At a ceremony on Sunday (September 12) in the southern Turkish province of Antalya, he told journalists that Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – which also host large numbers of Syrian refugees – are involved in the initiative.
"If this [migration] is a global problem, we must work together as the international community to solve it," Cavusoglu said, adding: "We have now started to receive better support from the international community for the safe return of refugees to their countries. They have understood how serious this issue is."
Cavusoglu’s comments come a few days after a visit by the UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi to Turkey, during which he met with the president, Reccep Tayip Erdogan, and the interior minister, Suleyman Soylu.
In a tweet from Ankara on September 8, Grandi thanked the foreign minister for "a good discussion on issues of forced displacement in Turkey and the region."
Return in 'safe and dignified conditions'
In spite of Cavusolgu’s remarks, the UNCHR's overall policy towards returning migrants to Syria is that the country is still too dangerous to send refugees back to. Responding to the foreign minister’s comments, the UNHCR spokesperson in Turkey, Selin Unal, said that only a political solution in Syria would allow people to return. She added that refugees should have the right to voluntarily return in "safe and dignified conditions."
Turkey is host to more than 3.7 million registered refugees who have fled the Syrian regime in the past decade. It is estimated that 500,000 Afghans refugees are also living in Turkey.
Over the past five years, the UNHCR has recorded around 110,000 voluntary refugee returns from Turkey to Syria. The yearly figure peaked in 2019 at 34,000 and has fallen sharply in the past two years. The UN notes that the actual number of returns may be significantly higher.
Public resentment against migrants in Turkey is reported to be growing. In August, President Erdogan warned that his country would not become a 'refugee warehouse' for Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
With AP, Anadolu Agency