Syrian Kurdish opposition group opposes Erdogan's plan to return 1 million Syrian refugees

"Therefore, the council calls on Turkey to abandon this project and calls on the concerned countries with the Syrian issue to take a clear position on it."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Anadolu Agency)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Anadolu Agency)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish National Council (KNC) on Monday said Turkey should abandon its plan to return one million Syrians, expressing fears over demographic changes in northern Syria.

In early May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he is working on a new project that will allow the voluntary return of a million Syrian refugees to 13 regions in northern Syria currently under Turkish control. He made the announcement amidst heated debates on the status of Syrian refugees in Turkey ahead of the country's June 2023 general elections. 

"At the beginning of this May, Turkey officially announced the launch of its project (voluntary return), as it puts it, to return one million Syrian refugees to it and resettle them in thirteen residential communities inside the Syrian lands adjacent to its southern borders, starting from Azaz in the west to Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain) in the (north)east (under Turkish control)," read the KNC statement

The statement went on to add that there is a "lack of a safe environment for the return of these people to their places of origin indicates that this project falls within the framework of the deportation of refugees and the effect of demographic change in those areas, as happened in other parts of the country, such as in Afrin."

Turkish-backed factions have occupied Afrin since March 2018, when the Turkish Army launched a cross-border offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). The invasion and occupation radically altered Afrin's long-established Kurdish-majority demographics. 

Read More: Kurds becoming a minority in Kurdish region of Afrin: Statement

The KNC underlined the right of return of Syrian refugees per UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

However, it "rejects the processes of demographic change in any part of the Syrian geography and from any side."

The KNC said the new project contradicts UNSCR 2254.

"Therefore, the council calls on Turkey to abandon this project and calls on the concerned countries with the Syrian issue to take a clear position on it," it added. 

Moreover, the KNC called for a faster political solution to the Syrian crisis, "which guarantees the safe return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in their original places of residence."

In a May 11 statement, the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) also rejected the Turkish plan, "affirming that we will stand firmly against such plans and projects, which aim to divide Syria and its people."

"The project of forcibly returning Syrian refugees to other Syrian regions, from which they had been expelled, represents a dangerous project and a full-fledged demographic change," the AANES said.

Turkey hosts nearly four million Syrian refugees.

In April, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 500,000 Syrians returned to northern Syria voluntarily, while 19,000 Syrians were deported for breaking the law.

The tolerant refugee policy of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was seen as one of the reasons it lost the cities of Istanbul and Ankara in the March 2019 local elections to the Kemalist Republican People's Party (CHP) opposition. 

The CHP has argued for a more hardline policy toward Syrian refugees in Turkey amidst increased uneasiness amongst the Turkish public over the large number of Syrian refugees in the country.