The newly elected mayor of western Bolu province from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Tanju Özcan, supported his plan to cut humanitarian relief for foreigners, saying that Syrian refugees should return home as soon as possible.
In an interview published in Sözcü daily yesterday, Özcan rejected criticism of his recent anti-refugee plan, saying that Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan refugees are living in the "highest standards" in Bolu. "They receive money support from four different institutions – social services, social solidarity institutions, the Turkish Red Crescent and the municipalities. They wear the best clothes and live in the most comfortable way in Bolu," Özcan said, while defending his recent decision to cut aid for refugees.
Özcan also said that he felt great sorrow when he saw an elder Turkish woman selling food in cold weather for a livelihood, while "healthy and young refugees were receiving their aid money from ATMs." However, the mayor did not elaborate under which program refugees get money from banks, as the Turkish government does not directly provide money to them. Özcan last week instructed Bolu municipality's departments to stop relief for foreigners as he promised during his election campaign, the latest example of the CHP's stance against refugees.
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world, spending over $35 billion on Syrians. Despite high sums in other provinces, Bolu hosts a small number of Syrian refugees. According to official numbers, only about 1,500 Syrians reside in Bolu.
In the June 2018 parliamentary and presidential elections, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his election partner in the Nation Alliance, Good Party (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 billion. 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." Meanwhile, a source from the Bashar Assad regime's migration authorities told Syrian media that more than 3,500 Syrian refugees have returned home from Turkey through the Kasab checkpoint in northern Syria's Latakia province since the beginning of this year."[Some] 3,610 Syrians have returned since the beginning of the year through the Kasab checkpoint in the north of Latakia province. Last week, 327 people returned, while 20-30 people arrive daily," the source told the Syrian al-Watan newspaper. The number of Syrians returning to their homeland has been gradually increasing. After Turkey liberated areas in northern Syria from Daesh and PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists, more than 300,000 Syrian refugees returned to their hometowns, according to official Turkish figures.