The Turkish government has ordered unregistered Syrian refugees to leave İstanbul by Sept. 24 in the wake of heightened scrutiny over the refugee population during Turkey’s recent elections.
According to the announcement by the İstanbul Governor’s Office, Syrians under temporary protection who lack registration for the city are required to return to their registered provinces. Exceptions will be made for refugees registered in provinces affected by devastating earthquakes that struck southeastern Turkey in February, killing more than 50,000 people.
The Hürriyet Daily News reported that law enforcement will send those who fail to leave Istanbul back to their registered provinces. Furthermore, government regulations indicate that individuals could face expulsion from the country if they repeatedly fail to report their whereabouts without valid reasons.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently won re-election, has pledged to repatriate 1 million Syrians. This commitment comes despite ongoing reports of Syrians being forcibly deported to their war-torn homeland.
Omar Kadkoy, an analyst with the Ankara-based TEPAV think tank, told the press that a lack of documentation is not a legal ground for returning a Syrian to Syria. “Syria remains an unsafe country of origin,” Kadkoy was quoted by The Media Line news website as saying.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrians under temporary protection. Turkish government statistics show that over 530,000 Syrians with protection status live in Istanbul — the highest number of any province. However, it is estimated that many Syrians are living undocumented in the country.
Discontent over Turkey’s refugee population, particularly Syrians, emerged as a significant issue during the May elections. The opposition candidate, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, promised to return all refugees to their countries of origin. Kılıçdaroğlu’s party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), holds the mayorship of Istanbul.
Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will have an opportunity to reclaim İstanbul next year. Erdoğan has already expressed his desire to secure a win in Turkey’s largest city and economic hub.
Analysts suggest the upcoming elections are driving renewed pressure on Syrians. “Erdoğan and his government are riding the wave that the opposition generated,” The Media Line quoted Kadkoy as saying.
Refugees in Turkey are frequently targeted by Turkish politicians, who hold them responsible for the social and economic problems in the country. The anti-Syrian rhetoric has gained momentum, especially during the May 14 elections and the May 28 presidential runoff.