In a recent statement, Turkish President Tayyip Recap Erdogan expressed frustration that Turkey was not receiving enough money from European Union (EU) countries to help accommodate Syrian refugees.
According to Erdogan, Turkey has invested the equivalent of some 40 billion Euros into various programs to assist Syrian refugees including a safe zone that it maintains in northwest Syria, whilst EU countries have only mustered about 3 billion Euros all up.
The safe zone referred to by Erdogan has become a national obsession in Turkey and something of a personal project for him and his political party.
Inside Turkey, the presence of millions of Syrian refugees who have had a hard time assimilating into the country has led to a degree of public unrest with incidents of violence, protest and media criticism over the situation.
With a national election on the horizon, Erdogan has mobilized a major policing effort to round-up and forcibly deport male Syrian refugees from Turkey back into Islamist-held areas of Syria.
Yet in Syria, a recent government offensive that Turkish observer forces were unable to deter coupled with the complete lock-down of Turkey’s border that prevented the entry of thousands of Syrians trying to escape resulted in mass anti-Erdogan protests by disillusioned Islamist youths across towns close to the border.
Furthermore, around the exact same time as this event, media footage showing Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin (one of the most vilified figures among anti-Assad Syrians and observers) sharing ice cream together at an airshow near Moscow whilst he reviewed Russia’s latest combat aircraft emerged – this only serving to make discontent for Erdogan at home and in Syria worse.
All up, Erdogan is in tough position. Many thousands of Islamist Syrians demand that he either shield them from Syrian Army operations or that he let them into Turkey; yet at the same time millions of Turks do not want their country to house Syrian refugees.
In this regard, the Turkish president sees a Syrian safe zone to be the best course of action. The only problem is that it takes tens of billions to develop and maintain, a price which Erdogan does not want to have to pay on his own.