Turkey talks with UN over returning Syrian refugees

UNHCR says refugees should have right to voluntarily return in 'safe and dignified conditions'

A Syrian refugee mother puts her baby to stroller in Nizip refugee camp, near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RC11925C4BE0
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Turkey is working with the UN’s refugee agency to repatriate Syrians, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday.

But Mr Cavusoglu's comments are at odds with the UNHCR’s overall policy on Syria, which it still considers too dangerous for the return of refugees.

“We are now receiving better support from the international community for the safe return and repatriation of refugees,” he said.

“We are working to repatriate refugees, especially in Syria, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”

UNHCR spokeswoman Selin Unal later said only a political solution in Syria would allow people to return.

Ms Unal said that refugees should have the right to voluntarily return in “safe and dignified conditions.”

Turkey hosts the world’s largest refugee population. Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq also hold significant numbers of Syrians.

Mr Cavusoglu was speaking at a ceremony in the southern province of Antalya after a visit to Turkey days earlier by UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, during which he met the minister and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Grandi thanked Turkey for hosting 3.7 million Syrians and 330,000 other refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly Afghans.

Mr Cavusoglu said the international community must work together to resolve migration.

“It’s not right to look at this from a security standpoint,” he said. “It’s wrong to look at it in a racist and fascist way.

"On the other hand, if it is a social problem, it is necessary to evaluate it calmly together and find a solution by producing new policies.”

In 2016, Turkey signed a deal with the EU to keep Syrians from moving to Europe in return for funding, after more than 1 million migrants from Syria and elsewhere entered the 27-nation bloc in 2015.

Updated: September 12, 2021, 9:49 PM