Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday in a live television interview with public broadcaster TRT said 1 million Syrian refugees would return home voluntarily, accusing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition leader and presidential candidate, of using hate speech against refugees in Turkey.
In an apparent bid to woo nationalist voters, Kılıçdaroğlu had earlier stepped up his rhetoric and called for the urgent expulsion of “10 million refugees” in the country.
“More than 450,000 Syrians have voluntarily returned to Syria, and we have plans to construct new buildings in northern Syria for the return of 1 million Syrians,” President Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan also accused Kılıçdaroğlu of lying about the number of refugees in Turkey as well as border security and of using hate speech against Syrians for his political agenda.
Kılıçdaroğlu released a short video on Twitter on Wednesday titled “Decide for Turkey,” in which he spoke passionately about why the Turkish people should vote for him in a runoff to be held in late May.
Turkey is forced to hold the runoff since Kılıçdaroğlu and his main rival, Erdoğan, could not manage to exceed the 50 percent threshold in the presidential election held on May 14.
In the video Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of failing to protect Turkey’s borders, which he described as the “honor” of the country and allowing an uncontrolled refugee flow into the country.
He said he would not allow the “10 million refugees” to grow into 30 million and threaten Turkey’s future.
Refugees in Turkey are frequently targeted by Turkish politicians, who hold them responsible for the social and economic problems in the country.
A total of 201,471 Syrians who were granted temporary protection status in Turkey left the country in 2022, according to an annual monitoring report released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Citing figures from the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management, the report said there are more than 5.2 million foreign nationals present in Turkey, 3.9 million of whom are seeking international protection.
Turkey, under its temporary protection regime, has granted 3,535,898 Syrian nationals the right to legally stay in the country. The vast majority, 3,488,373, of them live outside camps, while 47,525 Syrians reside in seven camps, the IOM said.
There was a decrease of 3,946 Syrian nationals in the camps’ population in 2022.