500,000 Syrians 'will return to Afrin' after fighting ends, says Turkey's First Lady
"The aim of this operation is to ensure safety in the region. When security and stability is ensured in the region with Operation Olive Branch, new flows will be stopped and those who are already here [in Turkey] are expected to be able to go back to their country," the wife of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a conference in Istanbul.
Despite her husband's concerted show of political and military might in the region, which many believe to demonstrate his designs for the Middle East, Emine Erdogan stressed Turkey's humanitarian efforts during the Syrian conflict.
"We face a moral issue in Syria, not a political one. People have been losing their homes, their family members and their health for seven years in Syria. International institutions, non-governmental organisations and states need to come together around alarming problems," Erdogan said.
"Turkey has been hosting nearly four million Syrian refugees for several years. The government, NGOs and people are all doing their best to improve the situation for these people. There is no other country demonstrating this level of unified effort for refugees anywhere in the world," she added.
"After Operation Olive Branch, nearly 500,000 people are expected to return to Afrin," she noted. She did not elaborate further on the process of returning Syrian refugees.
Continued fighting in Syria's northern provinces has spurred new waves of immigration across the border into Turkey, consisting of tens of thousands of families, according to aid organisations.
Reports that Turkish border forces have been shooting indiscriminately at fleeing Syrians led to Human Rights Watch (HRW) to issue an urgent plea to Turkey to end its use of "lethal force" against Syrian refugees, and to stop forcibly returning them back to the unsafe conditions from which they fled.
"Conditions in Syria are not safe for refugee returns," HRW's deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih said.
"With hostilities in Afrin contributing to the growing displacement crisis in the country, Turkey should allow the thousands of desperate Syrians seeking refuge to cross the border," Fakih added.