Migration experts say majority of Syrians do not want to go home in response to Erdogan’s ‘voluntary return’ project

Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement last week that his government is working on a new project to ensure the “voluntary” return home of 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, migration experts have pointed out that most Syrians do not want to go back, the Birgün daily reported.

According to the latest survey conducted in 2020 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 78 percent of Syrian migrants said under no circumstance did they want to return to their country.

Most of the respondents said their decision was based on the idea that Syria was not a safe country and that they had been living in Turkey for a long time.

Mahmut Kaya,  from Harran University in southeastern Urfa province, said instead of return programs Turkey needed to develop policies for the better integration of migrants.

“Integration should not only be directed at migrants but also at the local population,” said Kaya. “Integration aims to harmonize both the migrant and local population so they can learn to live together. It aims to prevent social discontent and anti-migrant feelings.”

Kaya said if the majority of the Turkish public was against migrants, this was due to inadequate government policies. “The government failed to provide language education to migrants, or job opportunities, or homes. They also failed to develop policies to lay the groundwork for voluntary returns,” he added.

Kaya explained that a certain level of anti-migrant sentiment was normal for all societies but that in Turkey it had reached a dangerous point.

Migration experts have said 85 percent of the country is against migrants, which could quickly escalate into hate crimes. Migrants have already been the target of hate crimes in recent months, which, many say, are the result of the increasing anti-refugee discourse in the country. Speaking to the media, experts have said anti-migrant sentiment could even lead to a pogrom.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, 3.7 million from Syria granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.

Amid increasing public discontent with the rising number of migrants, Erdoğan assured that 12 Turkish NGOs were building houses in Syria’s Idlib province.

According to Erdoğan, Turkey will work in coordination with local parliaments in Syria in 13 regions such as Azez, Jarabulus and Tell Abyad and that construction of various infrastructure facilities will be part of the project.

“We will be making efforts to lay the appropriate groundwork for the return [of the Syrians],” said Erdoğan.

Erdoğan, who long pursued an open-door policy toward refugees, signaled a change in stance last month, saying his government is making efforts for the dignified return of Syrians to their homeland.

Following Erdoğan’s comments, his election ally, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, said uncontrolled migration is like an occupation and should be prevented.

Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s remarks about the return of Syrian refugees to Syria come at a time when public surveys show their parties losing significant support amid a financial crisis in the country.

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