Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a planned safe zone in northern Syria could host the two to three million Syrian refugees who have settled in Turkey and Europe since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011.
“Through making east of Euphrates a safe place, we can resettle, depending on the depth of this safe zone, 2-3 million displaced Syrians currently living in our country and Europe,” the president said.
Speaking to academics in Ankara, Erdogan also repeated that Turkey would act unilaterally to establish the safe zone if the joint works with the United States (US) could not progress within two weeks.
On August 31, Erdogan had threatened to act on its own to set up the zone if control of the proposed zone is not given to Turkish troops within a few weeks.
Later, on September 5, Erdogan threatened to open his country’s borders, allowing a flood of refugees into Europe if Turkey does not receive adequate international support for setting up the zone.
At the time, the figure that Erdogan was mentioning was one million.
“Our goal is for at least one million of our Syrian brothers to return to the safe zone we will form along our 450 km border,” the president said at the beginning of September.
Following the 5th Trilateral Astana Summit between the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Monday, Erdogan provided details on his plans to construct a refugee city in the Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates, along the 450-km border, by utilizing the country’s public housing authority, TOKI, which would be building houses with gardens that can be used to grow food.
In the meeting, the three leaders, Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussed the situation in Syria’s Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria.
In recent months, Turkey and the US have been hashing out details of the safe zone in the region. In August, they set up a joint operation center in Turkey. They have, however, so far disagreed over the size and oversight of the zone.
The two NATO allies also began joint patrols in the planned safe zone last week, surveying the area to the east of the Euphrates River.
With the safe zone, Erdogan’s Turkey plans to set up what it calls a peace corridor that would also allow Syrian refugees to return to their homelands in the country’s north, besides clearing the area of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it deems as a terrorist organization over their alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The YPG is also deemed an important US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.