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Mystery surrounds Turkey’s $40 billion refugee bill

Turkey says it has spent $40 billion on Syrian refugees, but figures available in official records don't add up.

When Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring into northeastern Syria on Oct. 9, one of the objectives cited was the creation of a safe zone to accommodate a good part of the nearly 3.7 million Syrian refugees the country hosts. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly asserted that the refugees have cost Ankara $40 billion and slammed Western countries for allegedly contributing next to nothing. Did Turkey really spend $40 billion on Syrian refugees? Are the Syrians living off of assistance or working under harsh conditions to earn a living?

The alleged $40 billion is not clearly identifiable in official records. Certain expenditures have been officially cited over the years, but the total is nowhere close to $40 billion. Even the Court of Accounts, the country’s top public auditor, has flagged ambiguities in spending and documentation.

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