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Turkey is preparing to return one million Syrian refugees to northern Syria amid increasing economic woes and criticism from the opposition ahead of the presidential elections next year, the Middle East Eye reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced this week that the government is building 100,000 briquette houses to shelter Syrians in the rebel-held Idlib region. He said the government is “preparing a project to realize our one million Syrian brothers’ return.”

About 500,000 Syrians have resettled in areas of Syria controlled by Turkey, he added.

Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, who fled the country during the civil war. It also accommodates 1.7 million other foreign nationals, including Afghans and Pakistanis.

Erdogan initially refused to return refugees but changed his mind as Turkey began grappling with a currency crisis and rising anti-refugee sentiment. Last year, communal violence in major cities led to attacks on Syrian businesses and refugees.

His reversal also comes as the country prepares for the 2023 presidential elections. Opposition politicians across the political aisle have also pledged to send millions of refugees back to their countries.

Erdogan’s government has tried to mitigate the criticism by imposing restrictions on new arrivals: This week, the government banned Syrian refugees in Turkey from traveling to northern Syria for the holiday of Eid al-Fitr following public criticism over their ability to travel freely across the border.

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