Turkey, which for eight years has welcomed millions of Syrian refugees, has reversed course, forcing thousands to leave its major cities in recent weeks and ferrying many of them to its border with Syria in white buses and police vans, The New York Times writes.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pushing a radical solution – resettling refugees in a swath of Syrian territory controlled by the United States and its Kurdish allies. If that does not happen, he is threatening to send a flood of Syrian migrants to Europe.
Erdogan has long demanded a buffer zone along Turkey’s border with Syria to keep out Kurdish forces, whom he considers a security threat.
But he has repackaged the idea for the zone as a refuge for Syrians fleeing the war — pushing it as resentment against Syrians in Turkey has increased, and a Syrian and Russian offensive in Syria has sent hundreds of thousands more refugees fleeing toward the Turkish border.
“Our goal is to settle at least one million Syrian brothers and sisters in our country in this safe zone,” Erdogan told leaders of his Justice and Development Party in Ankara on Thursday. “If needed, with support from our friends, we can build new cities there and make it habitable for our Syrian siblings.”
None of the other powers involved in the war in Syria has wholly agreed to the idea, but Mr. Erdogan is demanding immediate access to the territory or threatening to take it himself. If not, he said, he would “open the gates” for large numbers of refugees to head into Europe as they did in 2015.
The European Union has given Turkey about $6.7 billion since 2015 to help control the flow of migrants. But Turkey, which has given sanctuary to 3.6 million Syrians, says the migrant problem is growing exponentially. “If there is no safe zone we can’t overcome this,” Erdogan said on Saturday.
Syrians have already turned their sights on Europe again. Turkish and international refugee officials have reported an increase in migrants and refugees trying to cross by boat into Europe from Turkey, many of them Syrians leaving Istanbul since the police crackdown. Over 500 refugees arrived by boat in the Greek island of Lesbos a week ago, The New York Times added.