Syrian Kurds say Turkey’s plan for refugee resettlement unacceptable

"They officially called it ‘resettlement,’ meaning that these refugees would be resettled in areas they are not local to—international law does not allow that."

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Luqman Ahmi, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led self-administration for northeast Syria, said Turkey’s plan to settle one million refugees in northern Syria is unacceptable.

“How can you be allowed to displace a community, kill them and loot their properties—and then bring non-locals, who have their own cities and villages, to be resettled in their houses?” Ahmi said in a recent interview with Kurdistan 24. “And the two locals have ethnic differences; Turkey is forcefully displacing the Kurds to replace them with Arabs.”

The spokesperson underlined that “each refugee must be able to go to their local home, to where they have been displaced from.”

Turkey has prepared a detailed plan to settle one million Syrian refugees now based in Turkey in territory it seized from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in October along a 20-mile stretch of its border between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye), Foreign Policy reported last week.

The plan was proposed to UN Secretary-General António Guterres at a Nov. 1 meeting in Istanbul. It requires over $26 billion in foreign assistance. So far, no one has supported the Turkish plan.

Syrian Kurdish leaders suggest the “safe zone” plan between Tal Abyad and Serekaniye is similar to the demographic change that Turkish and Turkish-backed forces caused in the northwestern city of Afrin.

Syrians from other areas such as Eastern Ghouta, Homs, and Hama now occupy homes of mostly Kurdish civilians who fled violence in Afrin in February and March 2018.

There are now similar fears thousands of civilians displaced from fighting in Idlib could also be settled in the new Turkish controlled areas in Syria.

According to a June report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), there have been strong indications of an intentional campaign of forced demographic change since Turkey took over Afrin from Kurdish forces in March 2018. 

According to Ahmi, over 300,000 people, including more than 80,000 children, have been displaced from their homes in Turkey’s recent operations in northern Syria.

“These numbers also include the women, elderly, and the sick,” he added. “Under such conditions, how can Turkey claim it is returning Syrian refugees to their lands?”

“They officially called it ‘resettlement,’ meaning that these refugees would be resettled in areas they are not local to—international law does not allow that; it is a violation of human rights.”

Ahmi said the Turkish plan would increase tensions in the region. “When an ethnic community sees another community resettled in their houses, that could result in sectarian conflict.”

The official said locals should only return voluntarily via international organizations such as the United Nations, not through military operations.

Kurdistan 24 spoke to displaced civilians from Serekaniye on Dec. 14 at the Washokani camp, who said they are unable to return since Turkish-backed groups control the town.

One Arab civilian from the town said people could not return to their homes as long as Turkish-backed groups are present.

“We are civilians, we have not been with the YPG [People’s Protection Units], yet we are still wanted. We were working on agriculture in Ras al-Ain, but now we have lost all our machines.”

Ali, a 31-year-old Kurd displaced from Serekaniye, also said he could not return because “the city is occupied by mercenaries.”

“They have taken over our homes, and we no longer have them; our properties have been stolen.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany