UN to study Turkish resettlement plan for Syrian refugees

Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President Erdogan met in Istanbul

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks to the press at United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has agreed to consider Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plan to create special zones for Syrian refugees to return home, after talks held in Istanbul.

In a statement released following their meeting on Friday, the UN said the Turkish government's proposals would be evaluated by experts.

Rights groups have repeatedly aired concerns about insecurity and other adverse conditions faced by Syrians trying to return home.

The Turkish plan involves the creation of settlement areas.

“The Secretary-General stressed the basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees,” the statement said of Mr Guterres, who headed the UN High Commission for Refugees between 2005-2015.

“He informed the president that UNHCR will immediately form a team to study the proposal and engage in discussions with Turkish authorities.”

Turkey has long pressed for a "safe zone" across its southern border to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it has taken in since 2011.

The zone is expected to stretch across a swathe of territory in north-eastern Syria which Turkey took control of after a military campaign launched on October 9 to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Turkish authorities have said the zone could house up to two million refugees, insisting that returns would be on a voluntary basis.

Mr Guterres and the Turkish president also expressed full backing for the first talks held in Geneva between members of a Constitutional Committee for Syria, and discussed regional crises including Yemen, Libya and the Middle East peace process.