Erdoğan blasts main opposition over migrant policy, vows to keep Syrians

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday condemned the main opposition party over its migrant policy as he vowed to keep Turkey’s Syrian migrants in the country.

Turkey will continue to a be a “harbour for the oppressed,’’ T24 news site cited Erdoğan as saying at an awards ceremony held by the Religious Affairs Directorate Foundation in Ankara.

“They say that they will send the migrants back if they win the elections. We won’t,’’ he said, referring to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP),  which has made the country’s migrant issue a top item of its campaign ahead of the 2023 polls.

“(This) man is saying ‘we will send them back.’ This is the difference between us… We will not leave anyone, including our own people, in a state of grief… Because this is what our values require of us,’’ he added. 

Turkey is home to some 4.7 million foreigners, according to an official of migration office, some 3.7 million of whom are Syrian nationals who began arriving in the country after an uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011 sparked a civil war.

Syrian migrants in Turkey been faced with a wave of xenophobia in the country, with anti-refugee sentiment being bolstered by the country’s high unemployment rate and ailing economy. The community has been the target of several violent attacks and murders in recent years. 

Meanwhile, opposition leaders in Turkey, including CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, are campaigning around the issue of Syrian migrants, promising to send the refugees back home within the next few years.

“We want them to go to home willingly,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in January, noting his CHP was prepared to lay the groundwork for their safety back home. 

“We are going to open our hearts,’’ Erdoğan said on Tuesday. “The aid of Allah has always been close to us. We have always been stronger with such aid.’’ 

More than 65 percent of Turks wants some 3.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to go back home, according to a new survey by the Social Democracy Foundation (SODEV).

A total of 66.1 percent of those surveyed by SODEV said they favoured "the repatriation of Syrians,’’ in line with the long-held negative view of Turks on the Syrian refugee population’s integration in the country. 

In 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed on a deal that aimed to cut the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe. The European bloc pledged billions of euros to Turkey to provide them with shelter. 

Turkey hosts nearly two-thirds of the entire Syrian refugee community worldwide.

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