Turkey elections: Refugees dominate politics 2023

This month, many guys stood in front of a blue-framed door in Istanbul’s Bagcilar area. One towering, furious one shouted a query.

He sought permission to assassinate someone in Syria. “No.”

He was furious because a Syrian killed his brother, a textile worker.

Right-wing nationalist Ata Alliance presidential candidate Sinan Ogan visited the family.

“We’ll return the Syrians quickly.” “Syrians won’t kill another Turk,” he remarked.

Ogan is one of four May 14 presidential candidates. The 55-year-old politician joined Ulkucu, or Gray Wolves. After an internal power struggle, the ultra-nationalist MHP expelled him. Surveys show his approval rating between 1.3% and 2.5% weeks before the vote.

Anti-refugee sentiment is not limited to Ogan and the Ata Alliance. All alliances save the pro-Kurdish Green-Left Alliance have promised to transfer nearly 4 million Syrians back to Syria if they win the election.

Kilicdaroglu would negotiate return with Syrian president.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, CHP leader and presidential candidate for the largest opposition bloc, also plays on anti-refugee sentiment. Kilicdaroglu prioritized refugee policy years ago after sensing Turkish hostility. If elected, he will engage with the Syrian administration to return refugees.

His alliance promised to reassess the EU refugee treaty and sign a separate repatriation agreement with other nations in its election agenda.

The partnership intends to use drones and modern technology to monitor porous border crossings and erect walls to stop uncontrolled migration. Discussing visa facilitation with various states.

Until a year ago, the AKP defended Syrians as cheap labor essential to the Turkish economy. The AKP now supports Syrians as the economic crisis, inflation, and poverty reduce Turkish society’s acceptance of them.

“With the realization that the Syrians wouldn’t return home after a few years, the mood changed,” said Ankara University migration researcher Murat Erdogan.

He claimed the opposition parties were the first to notice the mounting unhappiness, and the AKP followed after winning voters over with the refugee crisis. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated his party would fight illegal migration and prepare for Syrians’ voluntary and safe return.

“The AKP has recently been bragging about high deportation figures,” the migration researcher stated.

Most Turks want Syrians back.

Murat Erdogan has conducted the Syrians Barometer poll for five years, examining Turkish-Syrian relations in Turkey.

Turkish society’s refugee issue importance is surveyed annually. The issue has consistently been among the top three or four topics.

“In the latest study, it reached second place, right after the economic crisis,” the researcher told DW.

The survey also examined whether party refugee policies affect voter choice. “Up to 60% percent of the participants answered ‘yes’,” Murat Erdogan said, adding that the Syrian refugee problem gives parties ample of space to make their imprint, especially if the race is close.

The Syrians Barometer found that 88.5% of Turks and 85% of AKP voters want Syrian refugees back.

Demand unrealistic

However, Murat Erdogan claimed returning Syrians is unrealistic. Over 3.5 million Syrians have temporary protection in Turkey, 100,000 have a legal residence visa, and 200,000-300,000 are naturalized citizens.

Erdogan further claims that Turkey hosts 400,000 irregular refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Africa, and 1 million awaiting deportation.

Turkey has 5.5 million refugees. “No other country in the world has taken in as many refugees as Turkey,” he claimed.

Syrian children attend school and adults work, even if illegally.

“Sending them back over the next few years, as the parties claim, is impossible,” said the migration researcher. He said around 900,000 Syrian children were born in Turkey.

Violence victims

Turkey is struggling with rising inflation, unemployment, and poverty. Erdogan’s low interest rates have sunk the economy. Poverty has reached the middle class as purchasing power declines.

Motorcycle rider, corner shop.

Right-wing populist and nationalist parties are capitalizing. They are inciting xenophobia and foreign infiltration to benefit themselves. “Turkey has been assimilated by young foreign men,” they warn.

Critics became violent. A crowd destroyed Syrian stores in Ankara in August 2021, claiming the owners were living off state subsidies and without paying taxes. In mid-January 2022, masked attackers attacked 19-year-old Syrian Nail Alnaif in his Istanbul flat. In June 2022, Turkish security agents shot 35 refugees in Osmaniye for fleeing the refugee shelter. Refugees were accused of looting after the February earthquakes.

Syrians seek European citizenship.

Migration specialists say mood affects refugee mobility. More Turks are leaving, mainly for Europe.

Murat Erdogan said they fear Turkey but have no future in Syria. According to the Syrians Barometer, 25% of Syrians aspired to leave Turkey for a third nation four years ago. Current surveys show 55%.

Murat Erdogan said the Syrians “would certainly exceed the 70% mark” if asked now.

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