Turkey could allocate funds in 2020 budget for Syria safe zone housing: official

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Syrian children stand behind a fence at a refugee camp in the Kilis district of Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, on October 23, 2016. France's foreign minister urged the international community to "do everything" to end the "massacre" in the Syrian city of Aleppo after fighting resumed following a 72-hour truce declared by Damascus ally Russia. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

Turkey could allocate funds in its 2020 budget for building housing for refugees in a “safe zone” it wants to set up in northern Syria after a military incursion there, the head of the presidency’s budget directorate said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Ankara wants to clear the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from the length of its border with Syria and establish a zone that will extend some 20 miles (32 km) south. It says it will settle in that area up to 2 million of the 3.6 million refugees that Turkey currently hosts.

For Turkey, which hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, returning some Syrians across the border has become an urgent priority as it recovers from recession and battles high unemployment.

There are no funds allocated in the 2020 budget for the housing projects but it could be done if needed, Naci Ağbal, the head of the Strategy and Budget Directorate said.

“The government budget is strong, flexible. The necessary initiative will be taken,” he said, adding that Turkey could also boost spending on military operations.

Addressing world leaders at the United Nations last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held up a map of the planned safe zone and set out ambitious proposals to build dozens of new villages and towns for the refugees.

His map showed that 1 million Syrians would be housed in the northeast, but Erdoğan told the UN General Assembly that even more — up to 2 million — refugees could settle there once Turkish soldiers take control.

Turkey launched its operation into northern Syria last week against the YPG, drawing international condemnation and warnings of a humanitarian crisis.

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