The anti-refugee policy by the Republican People's Party's (CHP) newly elected mayor in western Bolu province was met with disappointment by Syrian refugee children, who called on the mayor to abandon his discriminatory language and practices against refugees.
A Syrian girl, Berivan Abbas, symbolically took over the post of eastern Ağrı province's mayor, Savcı Sayan, as part of Turkish officials' tradition of transferring their seats to children on April 23 National Sovereignty and Children's Day.
Abbas made a call to Mayor Tanju Özcan to reverse his decision to stop providing relief for refugees yesterday. "Mr. Bolu mayor, please do not strip the livelihood of my Syrian brothers," the little Syrian girl said.
"I want to hand over my seat to my Syrian sister. Berivan is studying and is embraced by all her brothers and sisters in this country," Sayan said, after welcoming a group of students including Abbas at his office.
"Today, those who claimed to be soldiers of [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk are trying to cut the livelihood of children such as Berivan," Sayan said, criticizing Tanju Özcan's decision to cut humanitarian relief for foreigners as part of his election pledge.
In his very first action taken after the March 31 elections, Özcan instructed municipality departments to stop relief for foreigners, saying that Syrian refugees should return home as soon as possible.
Despite receiving stern criticism, he later continued to support his anti-refugee plan, saying that Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan refugees are living in the "highest standards" in Bolu.
Özcan's practice drew great reactions from society. Last week, the International Refugee Rights Association filed a criminal complaint against the Bolu mayor. Speaking for the International Refugee Rights Association, lawyer Uğur Yıldırım said 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.
Yıldırım added that Özcan violated the Human Rights Declaration's 14th article of the right of sanctuary and asylum, and also acted against equality and equal access to municipality services listed in the Constitution.
After Özcan's controversial decision, Sayan invited all Syrians living in Bolu to Ağrı. "We can share our bread," Sayan said in a tweet.
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. It has so far spent over $35 billion on the Syrians. Compared to 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 was elected mayor with 44 percent of votes.