Turkey plans to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria and may reopen the route for migrants into Europe if it does not receive adequate international support for the plan, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, controls parts of north Syria where it says 350,000 Syrians have already returned. It is setting up a “safe zone” with the United States in the northeast where Erdoğan said many more could be moved.
“Our goal is for at least 1 million of our Syrian brothers and sisters to return to the safe zone we will establish along our 450-kilometer border,” Erdoğan said in a speech in Ankara.
The comments come as Turkey applies pressure on Washington for further concessions on the depth and oversight of the planned safe zone in the northeast, and as it comes under increasing pressure in Syria’s northwest Idlib region where a Russian-backed government offensive has pressed north.
Only a small minority of Syrians in Turkey is from the northern strip roughly proposed for resettlement, according to Turkish government data.
“We’re saying we should create such a safe zone so that we, as Turkey, can build towns there in place of the tent cities here. Let’s get them to the safe zone,” Erdoğan said.
“Give us logistical support, and we can build housing at 30 kilometers [20 miles] into northern Syria. This way we can provide them with humanitarian living conditions.”
“This either happens, or we will have to open the gates,” Erdoğan said. “Either you will provide support, or sorry, but we are not going to carry this burden alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”
Under a deal between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, Ankara agreed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.
However, the number of migrant arrivals in neighboring Greece spiked last month. A week ago, more than a dozen migrant boats carrying 600 people arrived, the first simultaneous arrival of its kind in three years.