Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have rejected a request from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for a parliamentary investigation into the Syrian refugee population in southern Hatay province, which borders Syria, the ANKA news agency reported on Thursday.
According to UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to around 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern of other nationalities.
The ruling AKP and the MHP on Thursday rejected the CHP request for a parliamentary investigation into “ways to control the Syrian population in the country and the problems faced by the Turks in Hatay,” ANKA said.
Speaking on her party’s investigation request, Suzan Şahin, the CHP lawmaker for Hatay, said the AKP, which has followed no specific policies regarding Turkey’s large refugee population, should start working to find solutions for the safe return of Syrian refugees.
Şahin said there were roughly 500,000 Syrians in Hatay, a city with a population of 1.6 million, according to official figures, adding that the real Syrian population in the province is said to be over 800,000.
The MP said 75 percent of the newborns in Hatay were Syrians and that the exports, imports and gold trade in the city are mainly done by Syrians, which makes them richer while causing the locals to get poorer.
“[Locals in] Hatay have become impoverished … unemployed. Hatay’s demographics changed; social and cultural life and people’s state of mind have been negatively affected. … We want the AKP to … find solutions for the peaceful return of Syrians to their country. This problem is … a safety issue, it’s a matter of survival,” Şahin said.
According to the lawmaker, another problem that poses a risk to Hatay is the number of Syrian voters.
“The number of Syrians who were granted citizenship has increased from 13,000 to 18,000 in the past 25 months. In Hatay, the number of Turkish voters has increased by 3.8 percent, while the number of Syrian voters surged by 38 percent. … The total number of Syrians in Reyhanlı and Antakya [districts of Hatay] is more than the population of 14 districts. … Do you want one of the Syrians you have granted citizenship to … become mukhtar [neighborhood head], mayor, or a lawmaker?” Şahin said, addressing the AKP.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who long pursued an open-door policy toward refugees, vowed in August not to allow the country to become a “warehouse” for refugees amid growing public unhappiness with the increasing number of refugees, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles.
Anti-migrant sentiment has also been expressed by opposition politicians. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition CHP, has promised to send Syrians back home if his party comes to power.
Tanju Özcan, the mayor of Bolu province from the CHP, earlier said additional water and solid waste tax 10 times the normal tax would be imposed on refugees living in Bolu.
Turkish media including pro-government and opposition outlets fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.
A report by the Istanbul-based Social Democracy Foundation (SODEV) revealed in February that 66 percent of Turkish citizens want Syrian migrants to be sent back to their country, with nearly half the respondents saying they saw Syrians as a burden to the country and potentially dangerous to society.