Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed his refusal to withdraw his forces from northern Syria because this would constitute a "security weakness."
Erdogan reiterated on Tuesday that plans are underway to organize the return of over a million Syrian refugees to the safe zones that Türkiye had established in Syria.
During an interview with TRT Television, Erdogan said it was not possible to withdraw Turkish forces from northern Syria because it would threaten the security of the borders.
"We have already supported the safe and voluntary return of refugees from the beginning. So far, nearly 560,000 refugees have returned to areas cleared of terrorism. This number will increase as terrorist organizations are wiped out in Syria."
The issue of Syrian refugees and the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria became a top priority in Türkiye ahead of the runoff vote after Erdogan could not win the presidential race in the first round.
He will face the leader of the main opposition CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Kilicdaroglu stated that Türkiye would immediately deport 10 million refugees and immigrants if he won the polls. He then adopted a less harsh rhetoric before the first round of the elections, saying the Syrians would be returned to their country within two years through negotiations with the Syrian government, EU, and UN to ensure their voluntary and safe return.
Erdogan criticized the Turkish opposition for announcing that it would withdraw forces from Syria if it won the elections and would establish full and normal relations with Damascus.
During an electoral event in Istanbul, he said that the opposition wants to pull out from the security corridors that Türkiye set up to protect its borders from terrorist organizations, Kurdish People's Defense Units (YPG), which are the largest components of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Turkish President said that there are no obstacles to meeting Bashar Assad if he succeeds in combating terrorist organizations on Turkey's borders.
Erdogan added in an interview with CNN last Friday that he had a good relationship with the Assad family, and the two families used to meet in the past, but certain developments unfolded, which led to the deterioration of the relationship.
"We have more than 900 kilometers of border, and there is a constant terror threat from those borders on our country," he said. "The only reason we have a military presence on the border is the fight against terrorism. That's the sole reason."
"(Through) my friendship with President [Vladimir] Putin, we thought we could open a door, specifically in our fight against terrorism in the northern part of Syria, which requires close cooperation and solidarity," he said.
He pointed out that the issue of the return of refugees is on the agenda of the ongoing quad talks between Türkiye, Russia, Iran, and Syria and achieved positive indications.
The President noted that Türkiye continues to build houses, with the support of civil organizations and neighboring countries, to create suitable conditions for the return of refugees.
Erdogan stressed that Türkiye aims to secure the return of about a million refugees, and perhaps more in the first stage, through new house construction projects.
After Sunday's second round of the presidential elections, Türkiye will establish a road map for the refugees' return.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu ruled out the return of all displaced Syrians to their country, even if Ankara normalizes relations with Damascus, citing Türkiye's need for manpower in certain sectors, especially the agricultural and industrial sectors.
Cavusoglu said it wouldn't be accurate to claim that Türkiye will return all Syrians to the country.
Furthermore, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced that Türkiye hosted 3,381,429 Syrian refugees under temporary protection.
Soylu added in a television interview that 70 percent of the Syrians want to return to their country if the appropriate conditions and infrastructure are available, adding that houses are being built with the support of international donors, especially Qatar.
He denied escalating crimes involving Syrians, stressing that Syrians are "disciplined."
Soylu indicated that authorities only granted Syrian Turkmen citizenship after reviewing their poor conditions.