Syrian authorities on Friday rejected plans by Turkey to return one million Syrian refugees to a “safe zone” on the border, Agence France-Presse reported, citing state media.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early May said Ankara was aiming to encourage one million Syrian refugees to return to their country by building them housing and local infrastructure there.
Turkey is today home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who fled after a civil war broke out in 2011 in Turkey’s southern neighbor.
Erdoğan’s “cheap statements” reveal his regime’s “aggressive games against Syria and the unity of its land and people,” the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on the official news agency SANA.
Erdoğan is facing rising public anger over the refugees’ presence and is wary of the issue dominating elections next year.
He said around 500,000 Syrians have returned to “safe zones” on the Turkey-Syria border since 2016.
These are controlled by Ankara-backed groups. The areas are designed to keep Syrians displaced by war from crossing into Turkish territory and to allow it to send back others who already did.
“The government of the Syrian Arab Republic absolutely rejects such games,” the ministry said, calling on countries not to finance the Turkish projects and to stop supporting Ankara.
“The main objective is colonialism… The so-called safe zone is in fact ethnic cleansing,” the ministry said.
Ankara has periodically carried out military strikes on a Kurdish-administered zone in northeastern Syria, where groups it considers terrorists are based.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.