ANKARA: Nearly 300,000 Syrian refugees have returned home since two Turkish military operations in the war-ravaged nation, the Turkish interior minister Suleyman Soylu said Saturday after Ankara warned yet another offensive was being planned.
“The number of our Syrian brothers and sisters who have returned to their country is 291,790 since the first two operations took place,“ he said during a speech in the northwestern province of Edirne.
In August 2016, Ankara supported Syrian opposition fighters who regained territory in northern Syria from the Islamic State (IS) group in an operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield”.
Between January and March 2017, rebels backed by Turkish forces seized the northwestern enclave of Afrin from a US-backed Kurdish militia viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.
Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a new operation against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria within a “few days”.
However, after US counterpart Donald Trump decided this week to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria, Erdogan said that action against the YPG and IS would take place “in the coming months”.
Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, including 3.5 million Syrians who fled there since the civil war broke out in 2011, and up to 300,000 Iraqis.
Turkey has also faced a higher number of Afghans coming into the country illegally this year. Soylu said that to date, 96,000 Afghans had arrived in Turkey, of which 30,000 were sent back.
Last year, 46,000 Afghans were caught entering Turkey illegally, he added. — AFP