Turkey talks with UN over returning Syrian refugees

Filed on September 12, 2021
Syrian refugees at a camp in Osmaniye, Turkey. — AFP file

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey is receiving better support from the international community for the safe return of refugees

Turkey is working with the UN’s refugee agency to repatriate Syrians to their home country, the Turkish foreign minister said on Sunday.

His comments are at odds with the UNHCR’s overall policy towards returning migrants to Syria, a country that it still considers too dangerous to send refugees back to.

“We are now receiving better support from the international community for the safe return and repatriation of refugees,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “We are working to repatriate refugees, especially in Syria, especially with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”

A spokesperson for the UNHCR in Turkey did not immediately respond to Cavusoglu’s remarks. The agency opposes forced repatriation but has previously negotiated with Turkey over allowing voluntary returns to Syria.

Turkey holds the world’s largest refugee population while Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq also hold significant numbers of Syrians.

Cavusoglu was speaking at a ceremony in the southern province of Antalya that followed a visit to Turkey days earlier by UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, during which he met Cavusoglu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Grandi thanked Turkey for hosting 3.7 million Syrians and 330,000 other refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly Afghans.

Cavusoglu said the international community must work together to resolve migration.

“It’s not right to look at this from a security standpoint,” he said. “It’s wrong to look at it in a racist and fascist way. On the other hand, if it is a social problem, it is necessary to evaluate it calmly together and find a solution by producing new policies.”

In 2016, Turkey signed a deal with the European Union to keep Syrians from moving to Europe in return for funding after more than 1 million migrants from Syria and elsewhere entered the 27-nation bloc in 2015.

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