Erdoğan says 365,000 Syrians returned to Turkish-controlled areas since 2016

(Corrects headline and text to make clear that 365,000 Syrians returned since 2016)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said some 365,000 Syrian refugees had returned from Turkey to areas controlled by Turkey in northern Syria since 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The refugees returned to an 8,100-square-km region that Turkey has seized after three major military operations in Syria since 2016, Erdoğan said on Sunday.

Turkey's last offensive was launched on Oct. 9 to create a safe zone inside Syria along the Turkish border cleared of Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkey plans to resettle millions of mainly Syrian Arab refugees it currently hosts in the area, leading to accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Turkey’s military offensive ended after Turkey and Russia agreed on a deal on Oct. 22 that includes joint patrols along the Turkish-Syrian border and coordinated efforts for the resettlement of refugees in northern Syria.

Rights group Amnesty International has accused Turkey of forcibly deporting Syrian refugees.

“It is chilling that Turkey’s deal with Russia this week agrees to the ‘safe and voluntary return’ of refugees to a yet to-be-established ‘safe zone.’ Returns until now have been anything but safe and voluntary – and now millions more refugees from Syria are at risk,” said Anna Shea, Researcher on Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International.

Turkey also plans to raise money through international donors to realise its plans to build 200,000 homes in 140 villages and 10 districts in the region that would cost $26.6 billion, according to pro-government Daily Sabah. That would also help pro-government building contractors who help the ruling party in return for being awarded publicly funded construction contracts, but which are currently saddled with high levels of debt.