Up to 3 million Syrians can be settled in safe zone: Erdoğan

Up to 3 million Syrians can be settled in safe zone: Erdoğan

Up to 3 million Syrians can be settled in safe zone: Erdoğan

A safe zone to bet set up in northeastern Syria jointly by Turkey and the U.S. can host two to three million Syrians, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, reiterating that Turkey can no longer cope with the growing refugee problem alone and calling on the EU to expand burden-sharing.

“Depending on the depth of the safe zone, we can provide the settlement of two to three million Syrian asylum-seekers who are currently in Turkey and Europe by securing the east of Euphrates,” Erdoğan said speaking on the occasion of the start of the new academic year in Ankara on Sept. 18. 

Erdoğan’s remarks came as Turkey and the U.S. are in a process of accomplishing the technicalities about a safe zone they agreed to on Aug. 7 to set up in the northeastern Syria. They have established a joint coordination center in Akçakale district of the border province of Şanlıurfa and carried out a ground patrolling mission as well as five reconnaissance flights in the region. However, there is still no clarity on the depth of the zone and by whom it will be controlled. Turkey presses on the U.S. that the enclave should be 30 kilometers deep in Syria.   

Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey will have to act unilaterally and enter the northeastern Syria if the U.S. does not agree on the terms of the safe zone in two weeks. “We will activate our own operation plan [for safe zone] if there would be no result [out of these talks] in two weeks,” Erdoğan stressed.

Turkey has reinforced its military deployment along the Turkish-Syrian border in a sign of its preparedness for a unilateral incursion into northeastern Syria.

Erdoğan to meet Trump in New York

Within the two weeks, Erdoğan is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in New York where world leaders will gather for the U.N. General Assembly meetings. The two men are to discuss joint efforts in Syria as well as other contentious bilateral issues, like Turkey’s exclusion from F-35 aircraft project as a result of its deployment of the Russian S-400s.

Turkey can’t provide for more refugees

Turkey is already hosting 3.6 million Syrians and will not be able to accept more, Erdoğan said, in reference to concerns over a new refugee inflow from Idlib province of Syria towards the Turkish border.

Informing that the fifth Astana Process summit that took place in Ankara has yielded important results for the stabilization of Syria, but there were still important issues that need to be sorted out, the president said.

Idlib is one of the top issues Turkish, Russian and Iranian leaders have discussed at the summit. Idlib, a last stronghold of the moderate opposition groups and home to nearly 4 million, has been under attack by Syrian regime forces since April. The Syrian army says it fights against the radical jihadist groups there but its attacks have hit civilians as well. Around 700,000 people have already fled towards north because of the attacks. 

“In the case we can’t provide calm in Idlib rapidly, we openly tell that we can’t afford [the hosting of] 4 million people living there,” Erdoğan stressed.

Turkey is hosting 3.6 million Syrians, he added, calling on the West to do the same.

“We are expecting stronger support from European countries on the east of Euphrates and Idlib. Words are no longer sufficient,” he stated.