Turkey’s presidential candidate promises repatriation of Syrians when he becomes head of state

Turkey's Republican People's Party (CHP) chairman and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu speaks during a rally in Çanakkale, western Turkey, on April 11, 2023. A sea of umbrellas and hoods at his feet, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the Turkish opposition candidate who will challenge Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the polls on 14 May, smilingly promises "the return of spring.” OZAN KOSE / AFP

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a presidential candidate, in an interview with German television station ABD said he would repatriate Syrian refugees if he were victorious in the upcoming election. 

According to Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service’s reporting, Kılıçdaroğlu said his party was developing a return plan for Syrians in Turkey. “There are approximately 4 million Syrians in Turkey,” he said. “Most of them live and work without any social security. So what will become of them when they are old and need pensions? We need to think about the future and ensure the safe return of migrants to Syria.”

The opposition leader said if he came to power, he would forge an agreement with the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad. The agreement would stipulate that the Syrian government guarantee the safety of repatriated Syrians.

“We will open a Turkish embassy in Syria and ask their government to open a Syrian embassy in Turkey. We will ask the United Nations to mediate this process if necessary. We will work with the Syrian government to rebuild the homes, schools and all the infrastructure destroyed in Syrian provinces. We want Syrians to return to their country without any worry or concern for their future. We want them to live a free life.”

In a contradictory argument, the interviewing journalist asked Kılıçdaroğlu if the Syrians would be willing to go back home and whether they would instead prefer to move to Europe, which would strain Turkey’s relationship with the European Union. 

Kılıçdaroğlu said he was convinced many Syrians would prefer to go back to Syria if they felt their country was safe.

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

The repatriation of Syrians has been a hot topic in past years. Anti-migrant sentiment has been on the rise, and Syrians have been blamed for the social and economic woes of the country. Kılıçdaroğlu has repeatedly promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power. 

Due to public pressure, Turkish President Recep Tayyip 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.

Last year Erdoğan announced that his government was working on a new project to ensure the “voluntary” return home of 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. 

This plan was criticized by migration experts, who pointed out that most Syrians do not want to go back.

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.

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