Backed by far-right ally, Erdoğan signals U-turn on Syrian migrants

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said his government was exerting efforts towards the “dignified return” of Turkey’s’ Syrian migrants, marking a change of tone in Ankara’s long-held policy.

The Turkish president’s remarks arrived at a meeting with ambassadors at the headquarters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, Yeniçağ newspaper reported.

“Turkey is temporary home to 5 million displaced people. We are working hard to facilitate the voluntary and dignified return of our Syrian brothers and sisters,’’ Erdoğan said, as he stressed how Turkey had failed to receive adequate support in sheltering refugees.

Turkey hosts some 3.7 million Syrian nationals, nearly two-thirds of the entire Syrian refugee community worldwide. The migrants began arriving in the country after an uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011 sparked a civil war.

Erdoğan’s almost decade-long open-door policy to Syrian migrants has come under intense criticism over the years, particularly from Turkey’s opposition groups, which have vowed to repatriate the migrants over the next few years, amid rising levels of xenophobia directed at them.

Just last month, Erdoğan condemned the main opposition party over its migrant policy as he vowed to keep Turkey’s Syrian migrants in the country.

Turkey will continue to a be a “harbour for the oppressed,’’ T24 news site cited Erdoğan as saying at an awards ceremony held by the Religious Affairs Directorate Foundation in Ankara.

Later on Tuesday, Eroğan’s far-right junior coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli likened uncontrolled migration to an “occupation.”

It should be “Turkey’s main goal to facilitate the return of Syrian migrants to their homeland” as soon as “the conditions leading to their displacement are eradicated,” T24 cited Bahçeli as saying during an address to his lawmakers on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Tuesday announced that Turkey may curb or restrict Syrian migrants from traveling home during the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday next month, Diken news site reported. 

Turkey has traditionally allowed Syrian migrants a window of time to visit home during religious holidays of Eid.

“There is no need for those who go to Syria for the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday to come back to Turkey,” Bahçeli said.

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