‘We trust Turkey’s record on refugees’ - U.S. envoy Jeffrey

Washington trusts in Ankara’s record in dealing with Syrian refugees and has not seen any credible examples of forced repatriation by Turkey, the U.S. Syria envoy, Ambassador James Jeffrey said in an interview with The Defense Post published on Friday.

Turkey and the United States are currently working on plans to establish a safe zone in northern Syria, which Ankara sees essential for both its security concerns over the Kurdish-held territories in Syria along its border and for the return of an estimated more than 4 million Syrians living in Turkey.

The Turkish government, pressured by growing anti-refugee sentiment in the country, has taken measures to curb irregular migration since the beginning of summer. The measures included forcing Syrians living in metropolitan cities like Istanbul to return to provinces they had been registered upon arrival. Human rights organisations and refugee advocates say Turkey has also been pushing Syrians detained during security checks for lacking necessary documentation to return their homeland involuntarily.

“There is no country involved in the tragedy — we’re talking six million refugees from Syria — that deserves more credit, and has done a better job with refugees than Turkey,” Jeffrey said when asked how the United States would prevent forced repatriation of Syrians in Turkey. “And we trust Turkey’s record, and we’re sure that that record will continue,” he said.

Turkish-backed rebels in Syria currently control Jarabulus, Al-Bab, and Afrin, which were seized during Turkey’s two military operations in Syria in 2017 and 2018. “We have seen no significant credible examples of any sizeable forced repatriation of anybody for any reason,” Jeffrey said in relation to those territories in Syria.

Days after the U.S.-Turkey safe zone deal was made public in August, Turkish officials announced plans to relocate some 700,000 Syrians there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expanded this vision on Monday saying that 3 million Syrians could be repatriated to northern Syria in the safe zone area.  

“The agreement we have with the Turks is couched in terms of refugees returning to the safe zone area in exactly the same terms — because we both took them from UNHCR [the U.N. Refugee Agency] standards for refugee returns. We’ll assume that the Turks, as they usually do, live up to their obligations,” The Defense Post quoted Jeffrey as saying.