Ümit Özdağ, leader of the far-right and anti-refugee Victory Party (Zafer Parti), has launched a new campaign dubbed “Bus to Damascus” aimed at deporting Syrian refugees from Turkey.
In a propaganda video posted on Twitter by Özdağ, who has been at the forefront of anti-refugee propaganda in Turkey, party supporters were asked to share the names of refugees and to donate to the Victory Party so that refugees could be put on buses they call “Victory Busses” and deported to Syria.
“The sale of one-way tickets for the ‘Victory Busses’ to Damascus has started. Share the names of refugees you want to send in the description, and we then will make the reservation for you,” he said.
Zafer Turizm'in tek yönlü Şam seferleri için bilet satışlarımız başlamıştır. Göndermek istediğiniz ismi eft açıklamasına yazın, rezervasyonunu yapalım. 😎
— Ümit Özdağ (@umitozdag) January 16, 2023
Özdağ, who was elected to parliament in the 2018 general election from the İYİ (Good) Party, was expelled from the party due to a series of disputes with the party administration in 2020. He subsequently established his own party and is still a member of parliament and thus enjoys parliamentary immunity.
This is not the first incident in which Özdağ has targeted Syrian refugees.
In June he traveled to the border province of Hatay to plant a “symbolic mine” on the border purportedly to prevent the crossing of Syrian refugees into Turkey. A bus carrying Özdağ and his party members was stopped by the police and gendarmerie before their arrival in Hatay and was prevented from entering the city upon an order from the Hatay Governor’s Office. The governor’s office also banned all protests and demonstrations in the city.
Refugees in Turkey, which hosts around 4 million refugees, are frequently targeted by Özdağ, who holds them responsible for the social and economic problems in the country.
Özdağ repeatedly said when his party comes to power, it will withdraw Turkey from the Ottawa Treaty, which it signed in 2004, agreeing to phase out anti-personnel landmines and establish a humanitarian surveillance system on its borders.
Attitudes about refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria have gradually hardened in Turkey, where they used to be welcomed with open arms, sympathy and compassion, as the number of newcomers has swelled over the past decade.
In addition to Özdağ, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is notorious for its anti-refugee rhetoric, with its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu vowing to send all Syrians back to their homeland if his party comes to power.