1,169 neighborhoods now closed off to migrant settlement, says Turkish Interior Ministry

The Turkish Ministry of Interior in a written statement said as of July 1, the number of neighborhoods closed off to migrants would be increased to 1,169, the Duvar news website reported.

According to the ministry 781 neighborhoods had already been closed to migrants to ensure that non-Turkish residents remained below 25 percent of the total population.

The quota was introduced by Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Çataklı in early February as part of a “Dilution Plan” aimed at restricting foreign populations in cities throughout the country.

“In cities where migrants are more than 25 percent of the total demographic, we will not allow more migrants to register,” said Çataklı. “Those Syrians who have newly arrived and are not registered will not automatically be given protection status.”

According to the new plan migrants will first be placed in camps, and authorities will investigate if they really need protection. Turkey will also stop issuing tourist visas to Syrians.

Among those cities where a quota will be enforced are Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Hatay, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep.

Activists have expressed outrage at the plan, fearing it will further embolden xenophobic attitudes in Turkish society. Burçak Sel Tüfekçi, director of the Ankara-based Earth is Home International Solidarity Association, criticized the plan.

“The plan to impose quotas on refugees is a demonstration of the deadlock faced by the government, whose support is sliding due to the economic crises,” she told Al-Monitor in February.

Tüfekçi added that the recent clashes between Syrians and locals have resulted in the relocation of Syrians from neighborhoods where they were highly concentrated.  “We now know that this is a nationwide plan and possibly more steps to come for the refugees as elections approach,” Tüfekçi said.

Turkey’s General Directorate of Migration Management has claimed that all relocations and resettlements have been conducted on a “voluntary basis,” while the government insists that the plan is being implemented with the aim of reducing and easing tensions in the country by managing the demographic distribution. However, activists argue the plan will worsen the anti-refugee sentiment that has swept throughout much of Turkish society over the past few years.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. Anti-immigrant sentiment is nearing the boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the price of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country’s foreign residents, particularly those who fled the civil war in Syria.

In September the Interior Ministry ordered the demolition of buildings primarily inhabited by Syrian refugees in Ankara’s Altındağ district, where earlier an anti-refugee protest took place.

According to the ministry the neighborhood, which is largely populated by Syrians, had become a “ghetto.” The ministry gave residents one week to empty out their houses before they were demolished.

When the buildings were demolished, most of the Syrians in the neighborhood were forced to seek accommodation elsewhere. The Interior Ministry previously said Syrian refugees living in Ankara but registered in different cities would be sent back to those cities. The buildings inhabited by those refugees would be emptied and inspections would be carried out on their businesses to determine if they were legal.

According to the latest figures provided by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on November 22, Turkey is home to a total of 4,038,857 refugees from around the world. Speaking to parliament’s Planning and Budget Committee, Soylu said 3,731,028 of these were Syrian refugees who are residing in Turkey under temporary protection status. The number of refugees with international protection status is 307,829.

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