October 17, 2019 / 9:35 AM / a month ago

Turkey could boost 2020 spending for Syria 'safe zone' housing

A man holds stacks of bread in the border town of Tal Abyad, Syria October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey could allocate funds in its 2020 budget for building housing for refugees in a “safe zone” it wants to set up in northern Syria after a military incursion there, the head of the presidency’s budget directorate said on Thursday.

Ankara wants to clear the Kurdish YPG militia from the length of its border with Syria and establish a zone that will extend some 20 miles (32 km) south. It says it will settle in that area up to 2 million of the 3.6 million refugees that Turkey currently hosts.

For Turkey, which hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, returning some Syrians across the border has become an urgent priority as it recovers from recession and battles high unemployment.

There are no funds allocated in the 2020 budget for the housing projects but it could be done if needed, Naci Agbal, the head of the Strategy and Budget Directorate said.

“The government budget is strong, flexible. The necessary initiative will be taken,” he said, adding that Turkey could also boost spending on military operations.

Addressing world leaders at the United Nations last month, President Tayyip Erdogan held up a map of the planned safe zone and set out ambitious proposals to build dozens of new villages and towns for the refugees.

His map showed that 1 million Syrians would be housed in the northeast, but Erdogan told the U.N. General Assembly that even more - up to 2 million - refugees could settle there once Turkish soldiers take control.

Turkey launched its operation into northern Syria last week against the YPG, drawing international condemnation and warnings of a humanitarian crisis.

Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer

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