Turkey’s refugee toll: From warm welcome to grave concern

Turkey’s refugee toll: From warm welcome to grave concern

The warm reception of the flow of Syrian refugees to Turkey has become a serious concern. (AFP/File)

Turkey’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis over the past decade has been laudable on ethical and humanitarian grounds, but it has also posed ominous challenges in economics, politics and security. , as well as social and foreign policy. As the country has accepted more refugees than it can process and has housed them longer than it can afford, the warm reception of the refugee stream has become a serious concern.

Recent statements by Turkish officials, whether from the ruling party or opposition parties, indicate that Turkey is likely to make some adjustments to its refugee policy due to national, regional and international factors. . The issue has both national and international dimensions, which are closely intertwined.

On the home front, anti-refugee sentiment and public dissatisfaction with the growing number of refugees are growing. The issue is one of the toughest challenges for the government ahead of next year’s election. It is also a strength card that opposition parties can use to pressure the government. However, when they criticize government policy, they end up spreading xenophobic rhetoric, which plays an influential role in the public stance towards refugees. Turkey is in the midst of an economic crisis with rising inflation and unemployment, and opposition parties blame refugees for many of the country’s social and economic problems.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that the government was making efforts for the dignified return of Syrians to their homeland. “No matter how lonely we are, we are doing our best for the voluntary and dignified return of our Syrian brothers and sisters to their homeland,” he said. Erdogan’s electoral ally, far-right Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahçeli, said Syrians who returned home for the Eid al-Fitr holiday did not need to return to Turkey. Unusually, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Syrian refugees would not be allowed to travel to Syria for Eid, a practice often criticized by the public and political parties. Their argument is that if Syria is safe to visit, then it is safe to stay. On the other hand, civil society organizations point out that these visits strengthen the links of Syrian refugees with their country of origin, and can even facilitate their eventual return process.

The Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey started with the Syrian war, but it is unlikely to go away even if the war ends

Sinem Cengiz

Domestically, the refugee problem in Turkey has many layers, including cheap labor and citizenship. Polls show that Turks reject the granting of citizenship for ideological and nationalistic reasons. The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, last week asked the government: “Why are you granting citizenship recklessly, what are you preparing for? Do you conduct a security screening when granting citizenship? »

Journalist Murat Yetkin said there were two main concerns underlying these questions. The first is that terrorists who hide their identity among Syrian refugees can enter Turkey and settle there. The second is the claim that the ruling party will gain an electoral advantage in 2023 by turning immigrants into voters. Amid these questions, Soylu said 19,336 Syrian refugees had been deported for security reasons since 2016, and Çavuşoğlu said 21,000 migrants had been deported in the first three months of this year.

The question of refugees also has an international dimension. The 2016 refugee agreement between Turkey and the EU, the Ukrainian war, and regional countries’ reconciliation efforts with the Syrian regime all play a role in shaping Turkey’s refugee policy. The fighting in Ukraine has already triggered a new wave of refugees. Bringing Syria back into the Arab fold could push countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, three neighbors hosting the largest number of refugees, to engage in refugee repatriation efforts.

The Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey started with the Syrian war, but it is unlikely to go away even if the war ends. Although the Turks believe that the Syrian refugees will eventually return to their country of origin, this seems unlikely at the moment. As the issue becomes more politicized every day, their integration in Turkey or their repatriation to Syria are both becoming more difficult.

• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst specializing in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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