Turkey's refugees become political tool amid economic crisis - AFP

Turkey’s Syrian refugee debate is increasingly becoming a political tool as the country grapples with record-hight inflation and a tumbling currency, aggravated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said on Thursday.

The Turkish President, whose approval ratings have taken a hit with the country’s ailing economy, has made contradictory statements over Ankara’s refugee policy, which has long been criticized by opposition parties, which have vowed the repatriation of millions of migrants in the country if elected to power.

Turkey is home to some 3.7 Syrian migrants, the largest in the world, which arrived following the civil war in Syria in 2011. The demographic has been faced with a wave of xenophobia in the country, with anti-refugee sentiment being bolstered by the country’s high unemployment rate and downturn in the economy.

The Turkish government is working on a new project to facilitate the voluntary return home of some 1 million Syrian refugees living Turkey,  Cumhuriyet newspaper cited Erdoğan as saying earlier this month, marking a change in tone on Ankara’s long-held migrant policy. But just last week, the Turkish leader said that his government would continue to protect them and not send them home, following mounting criticism from the opposition over his plans.

A massive return to Syria for Turkey’s migrant population is out of the question for now as Ankara and Syrian President Bashar Assad cannot reach an agreement until Turkey leaves the occupied areas in northern Syria, Murat Erdoğan, director of Ankara University's migration research centre, told AFP.

Erdoğan’s opponents, including the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu have accused the Turkish leader of making a U-turn on his refugee policy in a bid to placate voters ahead of the elections scheduled for the summer of 2023.

A recent spat between the far-right Victory Party and Erdoğan’s ruling AKP over Ankara’s migrant policy led to a days-long verbal tug-of-war.

"Nobody has revealed the mechanism of repatriation," Omar Kadkoy, a research associate at the Ankara-based TEPAV think-tank, told the agency.

An Ankara-led voluntary repatriation programme would take time, according to Kadkoy.

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