Syria: Turkey is building a residential complex for the return of refugees

Turkey has begun construction of a new housing complex near its border in northern Syria, with the aim of resettling Syrian refugees there, according to Turkish media.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu laid the first stone of the complex on Wednesday in al-Ghandurah, in the border strip controlled by Ankara, an AFP correspondent said.

“Syrian refugees living in Turkey will settle in these houses (…) as part of a dignified, voluntary and safe return,” the minister, quoted by the private Turkish news agency IHA, said.

“We are going to build 240,000 houses in this area,” the minister expressed hope that the construction would be completed within three years.

The statements come as the issue of the return of Syrian refugees is at the center of the presidential campaign in Turkey, where a second round is being played on Sunday.

The minister visited the project site being built on the site of a former airfield, according to an AFP correspondent, amid a large deployment of Turkish troops and armour.

A placard reading “Safe and dignified voluntary return project” in Arabic and Turkish, with the emblems of the Turkish government’s Agency for Disaster and Emergency Management (Afd) and the Qatar Fund for Development, which participates in financing the project.

Turkey is home to more than three million Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under pressure from voters and the opposition, promises to do everything possible to facilitate their return.

On 8 May, he announced that his country intended to build 200,000 housing units with the help of international humanitarian organizations at 13 sites in northern Syria to allow the return of one million refugees living in Turkey.

While Mr Erdogan calls for a “voluntary withdrawal”, his rival, opposition candidate Kemal Kilikdaroglu, promises the repatriation of Syrians “within two years”.

Turkey has already returned more than half a million refugees to Syria and built thousands of homes there in recent years.

Ankara emerged from the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011 in support of the opposition and rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Turkey’s president is now seeking to rebuild ties with his Syrian counterpart, conditioning any meeting with Mr Erdogan on the withdrawal of Turkish troops stationed in northern Syria.

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