Turkish Interior Ministry introduces new plan to set ‘migrant quota’ in cities

Migrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Gevgelija on February 23, 2016. Greece has expressed "displeasure" to the EU over tougher border controls by Balkan countries that have stranded thousands of migrants in the country, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' office said on February 23. / AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Çataklı on Wednesday said a quota for migrants had been introduced in 16 cities to make sure non-Turkish residents remained below 25 percent of the total population, the Hürriyet Daily news reported.

In a meeting with members of the press, Çataklı said the quota was part of a “Dilution Plan” and aimed to restrict foreign populations in cities throughout the country to a maximum of 25 percent.

“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.

The plan was announced by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu last week. He said major cities such as Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir were among those that had been closed off to migrants.

Activists have expressed outrage at the plan, fearing that 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.

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 lived in 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.

Anti-migrant sentiment has also been expressed by opposition politicians. Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power.

According to the latest figures provided by 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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