Erdogan and refugees

Erdogan and refugees

Burak Kara

Turkey is significantly expanding its program to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees. Despite the willingness of the authorities to help the “fraternal people”, the dominance of foreigners causes more and more irritation among ordinary Turks. This is skillfully used by the Turkish opposition parties, which are preparing with might and main for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in the country.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again taken on Syrian refugees. This time he announced the return home of 1 million people. At the same time, the details are important. As conceived by the authorities, people are not expelled, but they are created appropriate conditions for voluntary return.
“We did not just open our doors to save the lives and honor of the oppressed,” the president said. “We have also made and are making every effort to ensure that they return to their homes.”
In total, about 4 million Syrian and another 2 million Iraqi and Afghan refugees live in Turkey. This makes the country the largest sheltered region in the world.
Despite the fact that the Turkish authorities refer to the Syrians who arrived in the country as brothers, the presence of such a large number of foreigners has long been a problem. Especially against the backdrop of a difficult financial and economic situation.
At the everyday level, relations between Syrians and Turks are also not always serene. An example is the events of a year ago in Ankara, where the murder of a local teenager provoked anti-Syrian pogroms. The crowd destroyed and set fire to Syrian cafes and shops, and the police had to evacuate the Arab population on buses.
There are many posts on social media by Turks who are angry that foreigners are flying their flags in Turkish cities and getting help from the authorities, while many locals are trying to make ends meet.
Where will the Syrians be sent?
According to the Turkish leader, 500,000 refugees have already returned to the safe regions of Syria. Erdogan calls safe the lands that are not controlled by the forces of Bashar al-Assad.
First of all, this is Idlib, where the families of the radicals were evacuated. Also, these are border areas in northern Syria, where Kurdish administrations used to operate.
Thanks to Ankara’s “anti-terrorist operations”, the Kurds were pushed back. Now the area is in the hands of pro-Turkish formations. It is these territories that Turkey populates with refugees. And it’s not the first year. Because of this, the media often accused Erdogan of so-called demographic engineering. That is, in the policy of conscious replacement of the Kurdish minority by the Arab population. Refugees transferred to these areas are accommodated in special briquette houses, also built by the Turkish authorities.
“We are preparing a new project that will enable 1 million of our Syrian brothers to return home. This is a very extensive project that we will implement with lo-cal councils in 13 regions, including Aazaz, Tel Ab-yad, Jerablus,” the Turkish president said in a video message on house handover ceremony in Idlib.
As the head of state pointed out, the authorities have already built more than 57,000 briquette houses and another 20,000 will be built in new residential areas. There will also be mosques, schools, medical centers and social facilities.
Why now
Erdogan’s new pledge to return home nearly a quarter of all Syrian refugees came amid growing anti-immigrant rhetoric from Turkish opposition parties.
The hot political season begins in the country. A little more than a year remains before the parliamentary and presidential elections (June 2023). Refugees are one of the most sensitive issues for the Turkish authorities. Nationalist Turkish parties are making loud statements about their intention to send them home.
On May 3, a nine-minute video titled “Silent Occupation” appeared on YouTube. It depicts a dystopian future in which Istanbul is destroyed and crime-ridden, Arab real estate agents force Turks out of their neighborhoods, and a former Turkish surgeon becomes a janitor at a hospital where the Turkish language is banned. The video was commissioned by Umit Ozdag, a far-right member of parliament known for his harsh attacks against refugees.
Despite the rough and forced examples, more than 3 million users have watched his videos.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric may well inspire Turkish voters. Many of them are tired of the dominance of foreigners. Irritation is caused by overcrowded schools and hospitals, where refugees are treated for free.
According to Bloomberg, Ankara has spent about $100 billion in total on housing, medical care and training for Syrians who began to arrive in Turkey after the civil war in the SAR in 2011.
More than 200 thousand of them managed to obtain Turkish citizenship. This is mainly professionals and specialists – engineers, doctors, scientists. They will almost certainly vote for President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.
Erdogan and refugees
The president himself does not respond to criticism related to migration policy. The head of state relies on the support of the traditionalist population. For them, receiving war victims is a moral and even religious duty. The president himself periodically talks about the same thing, often emphasizing cultural and religious ties with the settlers.
“No one leaves home without a reason. No one voluntarily risks their future. Our humanitarian duty is to open borders and hearts for those who face difficult circumstances,” Erdogan said in a video message at an event in Idlib.
Ankara certainly understands that there is a problem with refugees. Therefore, from time to time Turkey announces the “voluntary return” of a certain number of Syrian guests to their homeland. They are needed both to populate the buffer zone cleared of Kurds, and to reduce the burden on the Turkish economy.
At the same time, how much everything is “voluntarily” is an open question. Many human rights groups are concerned that Syrians and Afghans are being resettled against their will. Thus, the Izmir Human Rights Association recently announced that a group of Afghans were forced to sign documents on their voluntary return to their homeland.
In April, the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled in the case of 13 Syrians who applied to the court to stay their deportation on the grounds that they were at risk of torture in Syria. However, the court ruled that the Syrians were not at particular risk that could prevent deportation.
Nevertheless, there is clearly a demand from Turkish voters to reduce the number of refugees. And against the background of the deteriorating economic situation in the country, it will obviously only increase.

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