Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has boasted about Turkey’s refugee system and described it as the best in the world in the face of growing concerns about the country’s ability to withstand another wave of asylum seekers, Turkish media reported on Thursday.
Speaking to journalist Negahan Alçı from the Habertürk daily, Soylu tried to head off criticism directed at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) for having no clear refugee policy or a proper mechanism to deal with regular and irregular migrants, particularly in the face of a recently renewed inflow of Afghan refugees.
Soylu said Turkey has 20,000 repatriation centers, a figure close to the number of all repatriation centers across Europe, and a refugee management board, arguing that the government is pursuing humanitarian refugee policies.
“If someone shows any country having a refugee management that is as comprehensive and smoothly functioning as ours, then my name isn’t Süleyman Soylu,” he said, adding, “Only [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel appreciates the significance of what is done.”
Merkel made similar remarks about the way Turkey hosts the Syrian refugees last week. “Turkey is doing an excellent job of taking care of Syrian refugees. We provided support to Turkey, but of course, that was a small amount,” she said referring to the European Union’s financial pledges as part of a 2016 refugee deal.
The AKP and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are frequently criticized for using refugees as a bargaining chip in their dealings with the EU, such as by pushing them towards the Greek border or threatening to do so.
Regarding the recently increased influx of Afghan asylum seekers, Soylu refused to accept that Afghans fleeing the Taliban constitute a “huge wave” arguing, instead, that only 25,000 Afghans were caught this year as they tried to enter Turkey, compared to 201,000 in 2019. “This is an operation based on perceptions,” he said, understating the allegations.
Following the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, a flow of refugees has reached Turkey’s borders through Iran due to fear of the Taliban, which is now the dominant force in the war-stricken country, further raising concerns about the increasing number of refugees in the country.
Commenting on remarks by Tanju Özcan, mayor of the northwestern province of Bolu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who had said that an additional water and solid waste tax 10 times the normal tax will be imposed on refugees, Soylu said: “I have deliberately kept silent about this inhuman call. I wanted people to see the power of the evil. There is no xenophobia or anti-migrant sentiment in our nation. It originates from the racist movements in the West.”
Although Özcan stood by his words, his party, the CHP, distanced itself from the anti-refugee and discriminatory remarks of the Bolu mayor, and 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.
Soylu failed to describe any decision taken or plan devised by the government to deal with the rising anti-refugee sentiments in Turkey where refugees have been increasingly targeted by hate speech and hate crimes and are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills.
There has recently been an increase in hate speech against refugees with the new wave of arrivals from Afghanistan. Prominent people who have publicly welcomed refugees 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 troubles.
Anti-refugee sentiment has also been expressed by opposition politicians. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has 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.
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.