The newly elected mayor of western Bolu province from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Tanju Özcan, instructed municipality departments to stop relief for foreigners - the latest example of the party's stance against refugees.
Özcan sent an official letter to the Culture and Social Works branch of the Bolu Municipality that includes his instructions, as he promised, to cut aid for Syrian refugees during his campaign.
"I told our voters that this aid has reached an unbearable level. We have cared for them for seven years, giving them our children's livelihood. After this, I won't give a single penny to Syrian refugees from the Bolu Municipality budget," Özcan said.
Turkey already hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. The country has spent over $35 billion on the Syrians. Despite high sums in other provinces, Bolu hosts a small number of Syrian refugees. According to official numbers, only about 1,500 Syrians have been residing in Bolu. Still, this number seems to be more than enough for Özcan to create policies against the refugees.
Stressing that he also promised to not give business licenses to Syrians in the province, Özcan said he would fulfill this promise too. "I will reject requests to give them business licenses. They can resort to the courts for that because I don't want them to settle in Bolu and Turkey. I am saying it everywhere; these guests have stayed for too long," he said.
Özcan had been the CHP deputy from Bolu since 2011. In the March 31, elections, he was nominated by his party for the province and elected as mayor with 44 percent of the votes.
Ufuk Uras, the renowned leftist politician, yesterday slammed Özcan's move regarding Syrians. "Inciting racial hatred against our Syrian refugee brothers is such a magnificent beginning. May God give him good sense," he wrote on his Twitter account.
Despite the government's welcoming policy toward Syrians, which is also supported by the majority of the public, the CHP and its ally the Good Party (İP) have been propagating anti-refugee rhetoric in Turkey, targeting Syrians with their political language. During the March 31 election campaign, the İP mayoral candidate used election banners in Fatih, Istanbul, a district that hosts a considerable number of Syrian refugees, pledging to clear the district of Syrian refugees, which have drawn criticism for provoking social unrest with their anti-Syrian rhetoric.
"I will not leave Fatih at the hands of Syrians," the banners read, which is supposed to be the main election motto of the İP's district mayoral candidate İlay Aksoy. The public and some politicians expressed criticism on social media channels.
In one of her rallies, Aksoy vowed that she will eliminate all sign written in Arabic and said, "My official language is Turkish, and it will stay Turkish," remarks that are very similar to the types of comments made in Europe and the U.S. out of fear of immigrants.
In the face of mounting criticism from the inhabitants of Fatih, the banners were removed. However, the İP administration patted Aksoy on the back. On Saturday, İP Deputy Chairman Ümit Özdağ criticized municipal authorities for removing the banners on his official Twitter account, saying, "You cannot frighten İlay Aksoy."
In the June 2018 parliamentary and presidential elections, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and İP Chairwoman Meral Akşener adopted a populist and exclusionary interpretation of nationalism in a bid to garner votes. In a speech at a rally in northern Giresun in 2017, Kılıçdaroğlu said: "There's no money for farmers, but do you know how much has been spent on Syrians? $30 million. They've become first class citizens. The price of hazelnuts has made people in the Black Sea Region second-class citizens. You will ask for an account of this."