Turkey has prohibited Syrian refugees in the country from visiting family in northern Syria for the upcoming Eid al-Fitr, Turkish Minute reported, citing Voice of America (VOA) Turkish Service.
Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, will begin on the evening of May 2 and will last until May 4 in Turkey.
Speaking during a live program on NTV on Friday, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the Turkish government would not allow Syrian refugees to visit family in northern Syria for Eid al-Fitr, a development that marks a significant change in Turkish authorities’ treatment of refugees.
“As of last week, we told our governors not to give [Syrians] holiday leave. … They can go to the safe zone [in northeast Syria] and stay there. Those who want to go [there] for the holiday and then return won’t be allowed to,” Soylu said.
The minister added that the refugees also had not been allowed to go home for the past two or three religious holidays as part of measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to VOA the Syrian refugees’ last visit to their homeland was in 2019.
Some Syrian refugees who were planning to go home for the religious holiday this year received text messages informing them that their permits to visit northern Syria were canceled, according to local media reports.
Soylu also talked about widespread criticism of Syrians in Turkey regarding their short trips to Syria to see their relatives on religious holidays, along with a commonly voiced argument that if tens of thousands of Syrians could return home every year, that proved Syria was now a safe country.
The argument, which has been expressed by many in Turkey, including opposition parties, was also voiced by Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during his party’s group meeting earlier this week.
Bahçeli said there was no need for those who go to Syria for the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday to come back to Turkey.
“Uncontrolled migration is like an occupation and should be prevented,” Bahçeli said, adding that as soon as the harsh conditions that led to the displacement of Syrians from their land are eliminated, having them return voluntarily and safely should be Turkey’s main goal.
Aside from Bahçeli, Erdoğan also signaled a change of stance on the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland earlier this week amid increasing public discontent with the rising number of refugees in Turkey.
Erdoğan, who long pursued an open-door policy toward refugees, said at a meeting with ambassadors at AKP headquarters in Ankara on Monday evening that his government is making efforts for the dignified return of Syrians to their homeland.
Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s remarks, however, come at a time when public surveys show their parties losing significant support amid a financial crisis in the country.
Unlike Erdoğan and Bahçeli, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, however, has long been promising to send Syrian refugees back home to Syria if his party comes to power.
Turkey is currently in the middle of an economic crisis as consumer prices accelerated to an annual rate of 61.14 percent, up from 54.4 percent in February. The refugees are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles.