Mayor stands behind anti-refugee remarks, vows more discriminatory measures

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A Turkish mayor from an opposition party who on Monday announced that he would take radical measures such as imposing additional water and solid waste taxes on refugees, stood behind his remarks on Tuesday and signaled that more of the same was to come.

Tanju Özcan, mayor of the northwestern province of Bolu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), sparked mixed reactions when he said an additional water and solid waste tax 10 times the normal tax would be imposed on migrants in Bolu in order to persuade them to leave.

While some rights groups and human rights activists were outraged by his remarks for being hateful against refugees, others who are uneasy about the increasing number of refugees in the country expressed support for him.

Despite the criticism, Özcan stood behind his remarks on Tuesday and said during an interview with Habertürk TV that he was simply expressing the feelings of the general public about the refugees.

“I know what my words mean. If I need to pay a price for them, I am ready to do so. I will never take a step back. … If these measures don’t work, we have additional ones in mind. But I will not reveal them now,” said Özcan.

According to Özcan’s Monday proposal, migrants will not be able to use water or benefit from city services at the same rate as Turkish citizens. “We are imposing extra taxes so that these people leave,” he said. “We have hosted them long enough. I believe we should just send them back to where they came from, but I don’t have the authority to force them out.”

There has recently been an increase in hate speech against migrants in Turkey with a new wave of arrivals from Afghanistan. Prominent people who have publicly welcomed migrants have been targeted and called traitors.

Refugees in Turkey have been increasingly targeted by hate speech and hate crimes and are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills.

In the meantime Özcan’s party, the CHP, made a statement on Tuesday, distancing itself from the controversial remarks of the Bolu mayor.

CHP Deputy Chairman Seyit Torun said in a written statement that Özcan’s comments are his personal views and do not have anything to do with the policies of the CHP.

“Depriving people of a basic need like water, even opening such an issue up to discussion is completely against our party policies,” said Torun.

He added that if the CHP comes to power, the party will send Syrian refugees, which he said have become a national security problem for Turkey, back to their homeland but that it will not allow them face any acts of discrimination until that time.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu recently promised to send Syrians who took refuge in Turkey fleeing the civil war in their homeland back to Syria if his party comes to power. He said Turkish people who can’t find jobs or make ends meet cite the presence of Syrian refugees as the reason for their economic situation because of the cheap labor they provide in the Turkish job market.

According to  UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.

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