Refugees will not stay in Turkey forever – Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in a speech on Thursday that Turkey’s military operations in northwest Syria could pave the way for the return of many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey, Cumhuriyet newspaper reports.

“We are not in a position to continue hosting 3.5 million refugees forever,” said Erdoğan at a speech to village and provincial leaders at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.

Turkey has played a leading role in accommodating the millions of refugees forced out of Syria since  the early days of the country’s bloody conflict.

“Those who think we have no place in our hearts for the lands that we wept to retreat from a century ago are mistaken,” said Erdoğan, referring to the loss of its Syrian territories by the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

The Turkish president stated that, since Turkey had taken control of 2,000 square kilometres of territory in northern Syria during the 2016-17 Euphrates Shield military operation, 135,000 refugees had returned to Syria.

Turkey has reconstructed cities and infrastructure in this region, ensuring conditions for the safe return of the refugees to towns including Jarabulus and al-Bab, said Erdoğan.

“We will do the same in Afrin”, the town currently under attack in another Turkish military operation, Olive Branch, said Erdoğan.

The Turkish president also declared his intention to “solve” the situation in Idlib, the largest territory still held by opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

"We'll solve the Afrin incident, we'll solve Idlib, and we would like our refugee brothers and sisters to return to their own country," said Erdoğan.

Erdoğan also roundly rejected calls to enter negotiations with Assad, who Ankara has opposed since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“They say I should talk with Assad,” said Erdoğan. “But what are we going to talk about with a man who has killed a million of his own citizens?”