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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out Tuesday at Western nations for their lack of support for his so-called Operation Peace Spring, which he launched in October in Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria.
Speaking at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Erdogan described the difficulties encountered by the millions of refugees forced to flee war and persecution, and the need for universal solidarity to support them.
The Turkish president, who said his country has welcomed more than 5 million displaced individuals — 3.7 million of them Syrian refugees, criticized the European Union for its lack of financial support and the member nations’ unwillingness to share the burden of welcoming refugees inside their own borders.
Erdogan also criticized Western leaders, whom he said have failed to support his military offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. He has accused the Kurds of being allied with PKK terrorists in Turkey, and said his reason for launching Operation Peace Spring was to clear a 120-kilometer area in Syria of what he called a terrorist presence.
“Let us declare these areas as safe zones,” Erdogan said through an interpreter. “Let us implement resettlement and housing projects altogether. Let us have hospitals. Let us have schools there and let the refugees go back to their motherland peacefully and in a dignified fashion. But nobody seems to be inclined to help us. Why? Because oil is a much more needed commodity.”
President Donald Trump announced in November his decision to post U.S. soldiers in Syria to guard oil fields. The Trump administration previously had been criticized by allies for allowing Turkey’s military assault to go forward by withdrawing U.S. troops allied with the Kurds in the region. The Kurds have called the move a betrayal.
Erdogan said he will go ahead with his plans to resettle about 1 million Syrian refugees in this so-called peace zone in northern Syria, despite international criticism.
“The YPG and PKK terrorist organizations are attacking civilians, but despite that fact, these areas are now the safest and most stable zones of Syria, which are inhabitable,” Erdogan said. “The Syrian refugees should go back on a voluntary basis, but we know what powers around the world would be disturbed by their resettlement peacefully and in a dignified fashion.”
Western powers and humanitarian organizations have expressed alarm at Turkey’s insistence on relocating the refugees across the border into the area once controlled by the Syrian Kurds. They warn this will lead to enduring ethnic tensions between the two groups, leading to permanent instability in the region.