Erdogan touts grand plans to resettle Syrian refugees in safe zone

Having long pushed for the establishment a so-called safe zone in northeast Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the area could be used to resettle two to three million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey and Europe. The proposal is the Turkish leader’s latest attempt to accelerate joint safe zone plans with the United States. He said that if they are delayed, Ankara would advance on its own terms in two weeks’ time.

“By making east of the Euphrates a safe place, and depending on the depth of this safe zone, we can resettle two to three million displaced Syrians currently living in our country and Europe,” Erdogan told an audience of academics in Ankara on Wednesday.

“We want to see strong support from European countries, on both the issues of Idlib and the region east of the Euphrates,” he added. “We expect action.”

Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and leaders in Ankara have come under increasing pressure to manage the displaced population as anti-refugee rhetoric has risen sharply within the country. In recent weeks, Erdogan has emphasized his nation may not be able to host the refugee population within its borders unless it receives more financial aid from European Union nations and expedited US support in establishing a safe zone in Syria.

At the same time, Turkish leaders have expressed frustration regarding joint northeast Syria operations with US forces, which they accuse of foot-dragging in establishing a safe zone of yet-to-be-determined dimensions that would be free of Kurdish militants seen as a threat to Turkey’s security.

While joint US-Turkey patrols of the area have begun, Erdogan has continued to advocate for the safe zone following an Ankara summit on Syrian peace talks, exemplified today by his pitch that the area could provide a secure harbor to resettle Syrian refugees scattered throughout Europe. Yet the proposal has raised concerns over the feasibility of such an undertaking among those familiar with the area.

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