Erdogan renews call for ‘safe zone’ support as Syrians return

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Ayla Jean Yackley Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for the Global Refugee Forum at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 17, 2019.
ISTANBUL — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his call to the international community Dec. 17 to support his plan to resettle at least 1 million refugees in an area Turkey captured from Syrian Kurdish fighters, saying returns are already underway while lamenting the lack of interest from wealthier countries in his project.

Turkish officials say Syrians are returning to the area east of the Euphrates River after Turkey launched a military operation in October against a Kurdish Syrian militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey saw Kurdish control of territory near its border as a security risk because of the YPG’s links with Kurdish militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

Erdogan did not provide an exact number of returnees in the roughly 3,600-square-kilometer (1,340-square-mile) area it controls between the Syrian towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain. A total of 371,000 people have returned to the three areas under the Turkish military’s control in Syria, which total about 8,200 square kilometers, he said in a speech at the UN Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

In addition to crippling Kurdish aspirations of self-rule in northeast Syria, the Turkish military also sought to carve out a “safe zone” south of the Turkish border to settle some of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees who have found safety in Turkey.

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