Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to send Syrian migrants and refugees in Turkey back to their war-torn homes within two years if he assumes office.
The opposition leader was speaking at a joint rally with Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener in Mersin province on Monday.
“Don’t you worry. We will send our Syrian siblings to their homes with drums and zurnas within two years at the latest,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that people need to place their trust in him and promised to fulfill his pledge.
He also rejected claims that such remarks were racist and discriminatory. “I am not being racist at all. I respect everyone’s identity,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. Instead, he argued that the Syrians should live “peacefully” in their country.
He added that they would be welcome to visit Turkey as tourists. “We have no problems. Our doors are open. They can travel.”
In response to Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairperson Devlet Bahçeli said Turkey has been enduring the maximum amount of burden with limited resources regarding the issue of migrants and has received minimal support from regional allies.
“It is necessary to ensure the safe return of Afghan and Syrian migrants and refugees to their countries as soon as a secure atmosphere is established in their countries,” Bahçeli told his parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday. He continued by saying that creating provocation through innocent people who have taken refuge in the country is a tactic used by anti-Turkey circles.
He also said he will not let anyone create gangs to carry out street protests against migrants using his party’s symbols.
The refugee issue has taken a center stage in Turkish politics, especially after the statements of Kılıçdaroğlu, who said in a July 16 video they would say goodbye to the “Syrian guests” and would send them home within two years.
“This is one of the five priorities of our rule. Our plans and programs are ready,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately hit back at Kılıçdaroğlu, saying, “We will not throw the people of God that have been seeking refuge here into the hands of killers.”
Despite the government’s welcoming policy toward Syrians, which is also supported by the majority of the public, the Good Party (IP) and its ally CHP have been propagating anti-refugee rhetoric in Turkey by targeting Syrians.
The CHP had previously vowed to send Syrian refugees back to their war-torn country in the party's declaration for the June 24 elections.
Furthermore, CHP Group Deputy Chairperson Engin Özkoç said: “Syrian and Afghan refugees are Turkey’s No. 1 national survival problem. Those that take in idle refugees into the country without records are committing crimes.”
Meanwhile, the racist mayor of Bolu province, Tanju Özcan, criticized a court decision overturning his regulations imposing higher tariffs for foreigners in the province.
“I have not given up my struggle,” Özcan said Tuesday, adding that the Bolu Administrative Court halted the execution of the law passed by the municipal assembly. He noted that he will find other means to carry out his “struggle.”
Ilay Aksoy of the IP, known for her anti-refugee stance, had praised the words of Özcan. “I sincerely congratulate Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan. We expect the same seriousness and determination from Istanbul and Ankara,” she said.
Aksoy, a former mayoral candidate of the IP, used election banners in Istanbul’s Fatih, a district that hosts a considerable number of Syrian refugees, pledging to clear the district of Syrian refugees. The move has drawn criticism for provoking social unrest with anti-Syrian rhetoric.
“I will not leave Fatih in the hands of Syrians,” the banners read, a statement that became Aksoy's main election motto.
Though both Kılıçdaroğlu and Özcan were widely criticized, there were also some circles that supported their policies amid concerns over a possible spike in migrants from Afghanistan before the United States pullout and intense fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
Opposition Victory Party (Zafer Partisi) Chairperson Ümit Özdağ – a former IP lawmaker – also recently came under fire for interrogating the Syrian-born owner of a jewelry shop in Turkey’s western Izmir province.
In his social media post, the opposition lawmaker noted that the Syrian-born man, who knew very little Turkish, had a gun license. Jewelers are allocated gun licenses in Turkey for security reasons.
“He came to Turkey seven years ago, knows very little Turkish, obtained citizenship and topped it off with a gun license. He’s opened a jewelry store in Izmir with the license he obtained from Şanlıurfa. There are 900,000 more of these (people). Turkey, are you not aware of the danger?” Özdağ said on Twitter.
Thousands of users quickly reacted against the lawmaker’s video, as they slammed him for fanning the flames of racism and hostility against Syrians in the country.
Özdağ was also criticized for bullying a law-abiding citizen, questioning his ID, business license and tax registry despite not having the legal right to do so, and for his hostile attitude toward migrants despite having migrant origins himself with a family history that traces back to Dagestan.
Since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Turkey has been at the forefront of helping the Syrian refugees. Turkey is home to more than 3.5 million refugees from Syria, the largest Syrian refugee community in the world. As it grapples with the influx of displaced, the country strives to offer exemplary care to the refugees, covering all their needs with a humanitarian expenditure of more than $30 billion (TL 398.13 billion).
Afghans are believed to be the second-largest refugee community after Syrians.
Refugees are widely embraced by the public, but the opposition parties often look to fuel a xenophobic, anti-refugee discourse.