Syrian refugees to be sent home within two years, main opposition party leader says

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (file photo)

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Wednesday in a speech in the southeastern Turkish province of Gaziantep that if the CHP comes to power, they will send Syrian refugees home in two years’ time at the latest, Voice of America (VOA) Turkish service reported.

Kılıçdaroğlu inexplicably claimed, however, that the refugees would be returning to Syria “of their own free will.”

He also pointed out that the unemployment rate in Gaziantep continues to rise due to the government’s misguided policy allowing more than 3 million Syrian refugees into Turkey since 2011.

“Gaziantep is one of the richest provinces in this region. Its industry and agriculture are strong, but the unemployment rate Is high. Some half-million Syrians live here. We can’t even feed ourselves, so how are we going to feed them? We aren’t racist; we consider them family. In two years at the most we’ll send them back to Syria ‘of their own free will.’ They will all go; we will send them,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

In June Philippe Leclerc, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) representative in Ankara, said approximately 800 Syrians leave Turkey for Syria every week.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in early May that his government was working on a new project to ensure the “voluntary” return home of 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Following Erdoğan’s comments, his election ally, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, said uncontrolled migration is like an occupation and should be prevented.

This is not the first incident in which Kılıçdaroğlu has spoken about sending Syrian refugees home from Turkey. The CHP is notorious for the anti-refugee rhetoric of its leader Kılıçdaroğlu, who earlier promised to send all Syrians back to their homeland if his party comes to power.

Refugees in Turkey, which hosts around 4 million refugees, are frequently targeted by Turkish politicians, who hold them responsible for the social and economic problems in the country.

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.

Most recently, Ümit Özdağ, the 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.

Despite calls from Turkey’s opposition parties and the Turkish government’s policies, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in September that Syria was not safe for refugees to return to.

The commission said it continued to document serious violations of human rights and that arbitrary detention and torture remained systematic in government-controlled areas.

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