The debate over Syrian refugees in Turkey is increasingly becoming a political tool as the country grapples with record high inflation and a falling currency, writes Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Turkey's president, whose approval ratings have been hurt by the country's ailing economy, has made controversial statements about Ankara's refugee policy, which has long been criticized by opposition parties that have promised the repatriation of millions of migrants if elected to the presidency.
Turkey is home to about 3.7 Syrian migrants, the largest number in the world since the war in Syria in 2011.
The Turkish government is working on a new project to facilitate the voluntary return home of some 1 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan's statement earlier this month, noting the change in tone of Ankara's longstanding migration policy. But just last week, the Turkish leader said his government would continue to protect them and not send them home after growing criticism from the opposition over his plans.
A massive return of Turkish migrants to Syria is now out of the question, as Ankara and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot come to an agreement until Turkey leaves the occupied areas in northern Syria, said Murat Erdogan, director of the Ankara University Migration Research Center.
Erdogan's opponents, including the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, have accused the Turkish leader of drastically changing his refugee policy in an attempt to appease voters ahead of elections scheduled for summer 2023.
A recent spat between the far-right Victory Party and Erdogan's ruling AKP over Ankara's migration policy has led to days of verbal tug-of-war.