Turkey: Erdogan plans to return one million Syrian refugees amid criticisms

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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to return a million Syrian refugees to their country ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in June next year, after the opposition parties ramp up their attack on his government’s immigration policy.

The political and economic cost of hosting the world’s largest refugee population threatens Mr. Erdogan’s popularity before the polls next year as voters increasingly grumble about overcrowded classrooms and longer waits at hospitals, where refugees receive free medical treatment.

His promise to return almost a quarter of Turkey’s roughly 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees is likely to win support among voters.

“We are now preparing a new project that will enable the voluntary return of 1 million Syrian brothers and sisters” to areas secured by Turkish and allied forces in northern Syria, Erdogan said in a video message.

Syrians fleeing the war next door make up the biggest share of Turkey’s refugee population of around six million people, alongside others from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ankara has spent about US$100 billion on housing, medical care and schooling for Syrians who began arriving weeks after the war began in 2011.

Erdogan had largely avoided blow-back over hosting them because his intensely loyal base, largely rural and conservative, agrees that the country has a moral and religious duty to take in those fleeing war.

But that welcome is wearing thin as high inflation erodes living standards, giving right-wing politicians an opening.

Umit Ozdag, the nationalist leader of the Zafer Party, who has vowed to send millions of refugees home, dismissed the government’s plans during a recent interview as “a tactic to contain the anti-immigration sentiment in the run-up to elections”. (Source: The Straits Times)

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