UN to study Turkey’s resettlement plans for Syrian refugees

The United Nation's chief Antonio Guterres told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during their meeting on Friday that the organisation’s refugee agency would immediately form a team to study Turkey’s proposal to resettle the Syrian refugees in Turkey in a safe zone in northern Syria Ankara plans to establish.

Turkey launched a military offensive in northern Syria on Oct. 9 to remove Kurdish militia from territories along its border and seized the region between northeastern Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn, where it plans to establish a safe zone.

The military offensive ended last week after Russia and Turkey agreed on establishing a larger buffer zone that starts from the northwestern Syrian town of Manbij and stretches to Syria’s border with Iraq. 

Turkey and Russia also agreed on coordinating efforts for the safe return of some 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Ankara, which has repeatedly said that the resettlement of Syrian refugees was one of the reasons of its military operation, seeks support of international donors for its plans. 

“The Secretary-General stressed the basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees,” a UN readout of the meeting between Guterres and Erdoğan said. “He informed the President that UNHCR will immediately form a team to study the proposal and engage in discussions with Turkish authorities, in line with its mandate.”

According to the UN’s estimates, some 180,000 people were displaced during Turkey’s nine-day incursion into northern Syria. 

“At least 94,000 civilians have returned over the last days to areas seized by Turkish military and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in northern Syria, a UN official told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency. 

"Now, we are seeing a movement of return. Today, we have about 94,000 who have returned to areas that are now effectively under Turkish control," Anadolu quoted Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as saying. 

"And if that trend continues, of course, more people in the coming days and weeks will return to their home,” Laerke said.