Syrian refugees in Turkey: Political tool in crisis times

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey’s large Syrian refugee population has become a political football as an economic crisis overshadows next year’s presidential election and parties spar over sending them back to their war-torn homeland.

Millions of Syrians have settled in neighbouring Turkey since 2012. A 2016 deal with the European Union offered Ankara incentives for taking them in, after some member states baulked at hosting large numbers of Middle Eastern migrants.

With the lira’s value tumbling to historic lows and annual inflation running at nearly 70 per cent, aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine war, the refugee question regularly marks political debate.

But analysts told AFP that Turkey’s 3.7 million Syrian refugees have no appetite to go back home and that plans to return them to Syria are unfeasible.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power since 2003 and tipped to win the June 2023 vote, wants to encourage the refugees’ “voluntary” return, pledging to build more infrastructure in a Syrian region where Ankara has deployed troops since 2016.

Turkey has already inaugurated several thousand briquette houses in the Idlib region – the last opposition bastion in north-western Syria – to facilitate the return of Syrians to “safe zones” along the border.

At the same time, the Turkish leader has vowed to “protect up to the end our brothers who fled the war and took refuge in our country”, refusing to throw them into the “lap of murderers”.

His comments run contrary to the radical argument of the main opposition CHP, whose leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu promised to send Syrians back if elected in 2023.

Kilicdaroglu has accused Erdogan of seeking to “naturalise the refugees in exchange for their vote”, while the extreme right-wing Victory Party has denounced a “silent invasion” by migrants.

Some Turks accuse Syrians of “stealing their jobs” or “escalating rental prices”.

Idlib ‘safe zone’

“Nobody has revealed the mechanism of repatriation,” said Omar Kadkoy, a research associate at the Ankara-based TEPAV think-tank.

Kadkoy said an Ankara-led voluntary repatriation scheme would take time and questioned the legality of Turkish construction on Syrian territory.

“On whose land are you building this housing?” the analyst asked, saying a swift execution of the plan sounded “very unrealistic”.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.