U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that millions of Syrian refugees would be scattered around the world if Turkey were not hosting them.
Speaking at a press conference at the White House, Trump said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to repatriate the refugees.
“Right now, he’s holding, in all fairness to him, he’s holding millions of people that would be all over the place if he wasn’t holding them,” said Trump. “So he wants to repatriate, he wants to have them go back into the area that he’s looking at.”
Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. Ankara has so far spent $40 billion for the refugees, according to official figures.
Earlier in the day, Erdogan announced the launch of Operation Peace Spring east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terror elements and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
“If you listen to Erdogan, he wants to have people go back to where they came from. Go back to Syria,” said Trump. “But we’ll see. We’ll see how he does it.”
The operation came after Trump announced the pullback of U.S. troops in northern Syria, saying Washington would not be engaged in the campaign and “will no longer be in the immediate area.”
Ankara has said the PKK terrorist group and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure.
*Michael Hernandez contributed to the story
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