The International Refugee Rights Association filed yesterday a criminal complaint against Tanju Özcan, the newly elected Republican People's Party (CHP) mayor of northwestern Turkey's Bolu, following his directives to cut humanitarian relief for foreigners and Syrian refugees.
Representatives from various civil organizations made a joint press statement at the Istanbul courthouse in Çağlayan.
Speaking for the International Refugee Rights Association, Lawyer Uğur Yıldırım said Özcan has followed through with the anti-refugee rhetoric used during his campaign.
Yıldırım said Özcan gave instructions to Bolu's Municipality Culture and Social Affairs Directorate that Syrian refugees should not be given any financial support or be allowed to benefit from public food kitchens.
He added that Özcan's decision has caused public resentment and he did not heed the calls of civil society organizations and lawyers, continuing his discriminatory policies against Syrian refugees.
Violating the Human Rights Declaration's 14th article of the right of sanctuary and asylum, Özcan also acted against equality and equal access to municipality services listed in the Constitution, Yıldırım said.
"Tanju Özcan's statements claiming that Syrians are taking wages from multiple foundations and living in better conditions than Turkish people are unfair and baseless. Without investigating the validity of these claims, acting with populist and fascist intentions is not appropriate of a municipal mayor and also a crime," Yıldırım said.
Özgür-Der Chairman Rıdvan Kaya said that provoking poor Turkish people against poor Syrian people is one of the worst things a mayor can do.
"While a municipal mayor should work through people's access to better jobs, education and health opportunities, provoking people against each other is a crime against humanity," Kaya said.
Özcan's election campaign video and press statements targeting Syrians and foreign citizens were used as evidence in the petition submitted to the court.
The petition demands that Özcan be charged with the crimes of "preventing people access to public services," "violation of work and job freedom," "insulting and provoking people" and "hatred and discrimination."
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. It has so far spent over $35 billion on Syrians. Compared to the other provinces, Bolu hosts a small number of Syrian refugees. According to official numbers, there are only about 1,500 Syrians in Bolu.
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.
Özcan, however, rejected the criticism of his recent anti-refugee plan, saying that Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan refugees are living in the "highest standards" in Bolu.
"They receive monetary support from four different institutions: Social services, social solidarity institutions, the Turkish Red Crescent and the local municipalities. They wear the best clothes and live in the most comfortable way in Bolu," Özcan said while defending his decision to cut aid for refugees.