Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that a planned “safe zone” in northern Syria could host 2 to 3 million Syrian refugees that have settled in Turkey and Europe after eight years of war at home, Reuters reported.
Addressing academics in Ankara, Erdoğan also repeated that Ankara would act on its own if the zone, planned jointly with the United States in Syria’s northeast, fails to come to fruition.
“Through making east of the Euphrates a safe place, and depending on the depth of this safe zone, we can resettle 2-3 million displaced Syrians currently living in our country and Europe,” he said.
“We want to see strong support from European countries, both on the issues of Idlib and the region east of the Euphrates. We are tired of words, and we expect action,” Erdoğan added.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Its troops are also stationed in Syria’s northwest Idlib region, where a Russian-backed government offensive has pushed north in recent months, raising the prospect of a new wave of refugees.
“If we cannot quickly establish peace in Idlib, we will be unable to bear the burden of the 4 million Syrians who live in that region,” Erdoğan added.
Next week Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump will discuss plans to establish what Turkey describes as a safe zone along 450 kilometers (280 miles) of Syrian border stretching east from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, a region controlled mainly by US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters.
The YPG has been a main US ally in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. US support for the fighters has infuriated Turkey and strained ties with Washington.
“We will initiate our own plans in two weeks if no results come from the work with the United States on the formation of a safe zone,” Erdoğan said.