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Leader of right-wing party faces complaint over visit to Syrian-owned shop

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The İzmir Police Department has filed a criminal complaint against the leader of a right-wing political party whose remarks about Syrian refugees in the city following a visit to a shop run by Syrian owners led to criticism, a journalist has revealed.

Journalist Nagehan Alçı, who writes for the pro-government Haber Türk daily, said in her column on Thursday that the İzmir Police Department had filed the complaint against newly established Victory Party (ZP) leader Ümit Özdağ for asking the shop owners about their ID cards and business license during the shop visit and his subsequent remarks about refugees in the country.

In the complaint Özdağ is accused of fomenting enmity and hostility among the public, abuse of public office and violating privacy.

Özdağ, who was elected to parliament in the 2018 general election from the İYİ (Good) Party, was expelled from the party due to a series of disputes with the administration in 2020. He subsequently established his own party and is still a member of parliament and thus enjoys parliamentary immunity.

The shop owners showed the documents to Özdağ, who continued to ask them questions such as whether they ever thought about returning to Syria. When the owner said he did not want to go back, Özdağ left the shop.

Following the visit Özdağ warned Turkish citizens of a “Syrian threat” in a video shared on Twitter on Monday, sparking outrage among academics, activists and

Özdağ said in the video there were 900,000 shops in Turkey owned by Syrians, which constituted a threat to Turkey. “This man came seven years ago and can barely speak Turkish,” he said. “He has acquired Turkish citizenship and even a gun license. He was able to open a shop, and there are thousands of Syrians like him.”

This is not the first incident in which Özdağ has targeted migrants. In November he  started a signature campaign to throw Syrian and Afghan refugees out of Turkey. Sharing a link to the campaign on social media, Özdağ urged people to participate to curb the “migrant invasion.”

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.

Turkish media including both pro-government and opposition outlets have fueled and exploited the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.

Last week news of three Syrian men being burned to death in western Izmir province emerged.

According to the latest figures provided by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 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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