Turkey's Parliament is yet to receive a response 15 days after asking main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan, known for his discriminatory language and anti-refugee moves, on the real extent of the economic burden of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees.
In his first action following the March 31 elections, Özcan instructed municipality departments to stop relief for foreigners, claiming that Syrian refugees were are living in Bolu in "highest standards," and should return home as soon as possible.
His anti-refugee rhetoric, however, was met with strong criticism and many think that Özcan has been using anti-refugee discourse for political gains. They claimed that the mayor was probably exaggerating the economic aspect of the aid as only about 1,500 Syrians, out of the country's 4 million, live in Bolu, according to official numbers.
The Human Rights Commission of Parliament recently asked the Bolu Municipality to prepare a report, including the total amount of aid delivered to Syrians in last seven years. The municipality is yet to respond, even though more than 15 days have passed since Parliament made the request. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentarian Atay Uslu, who is also serving as president of Parliament's immigration and integration subcommittee, said Parliament's request will uncover the actual magnitude of aid in the municipality's budget, adding that such appeals should be responded to in a week.
"How many Syrians received aid in Bolu? For what purpose did Bolu mayor Tanju Özcan make such statement? Is there a political or any other motive behind it? We will share the answers with the people, but first Bolu Municipality should answer our request," Uslu said. He added that Parliament's request also aims to reveal the business activities of Syrians in Bolu as Özcan also promised to not give business licenses to Syrians in the province.
"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," Özcan said in a speech right after his election victory on March 31 local polls. Last month, the International Refugee Rights Association filed a criminal complaint against the Bolu mayor, saying that Özcan's decision has caused public resentment and that he did not heed the calls of civil society organizations and lawyers, continuing his discriminatory policies against Syrian refugees.
The association also said 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 Turkish Constitution.
Özcan has been a 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.
After the elections, anti-refugee rhetoric found ground with some other CHP mayors as well. CHP Mayor Rıdvan Karakayalı of the Kemalpaşa district of western İzmir province also promised to expel Syrian refugees after the elections. "We will get rid of the Syrians. There is peace in Syria, so what they are doing here?" Karakayalı said on a TV program, answering a question regarding the situation of refugees in the district.
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world and spent over $35 billion on them. Despite high numbers of refugees in other provinces, Bolu hosts a small number of Syrians. According to official numbers, only 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."