Turkey pushes refugee return with new Syria ‘safe zones’

Via The New Arab – Turkey is set to create more safe zones in Syria to allow refugees who fled the civil war – around half of them to Turkey – to return home.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday at his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) provincial headquarters in the city of Trabzon, that 250,000 people had already returned to Syria.

“God willing soon we will have liberated more places and made more areas safe,” he said, reported Reuters.

The announcement comes amid a Russian-led push for the return to refugees to areas of Syria now under regime control, although most Syrians would fear repurcusions returning to these districts.

Last month, Russia presented the US with plans for the coordinated return of refugees to Syria, aiming to repatriate some 890,000 Syrians from Lebanon, despite alarm from refugees who fear detention and even death on arrival.

Despite the returns being described as voluntary, many are sceptical of the “guarantee” that those returning will not be detained. The Assad regime has well-known for its brutal persecution of those who have, or believed to have, voiced opposition to the government.

The Syrian regime, which has recaptured swathes of former rebel-held territory in the south, has now turned its attention on the northern Idlib province, the largest remaining rebel-held enclave.

Russian and regime bombing of the opposition province has been ramped in recent days, with Assad’s forces massing on the border.

Erdogan said diplomatic and military efforts there have been ramped up to avoid a “catastrophe” like those seen in other parts of Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey is carrying out an offensive in northern Syria’s Afrin region against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation linked to a Kurdish militant group that is waging an insurgency on Turkish soil.

This article was first published at The New Arab