Turkey’s Kilicdaroglu promises to kick out refugees post-election

Remarks by the opposition presidential candidate ahead of his May 28 run-off against President Erdogan incite reactions online.

Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Turkey's main opposition alliance, gesture at a rally outside the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters as voters await election results in Ankara, Turkey May 14, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Turkey's main opposition alliance, turn out at a rally in Ankara on election night on May 14, 2023 [Yves Herman/Reuters]

Turkish opposition leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu has promised to send “10 million refugees” home if he wins a May 28 run-off as he shifts to a sharply more anti-migrant tone to try to win nationalist votes and defeat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kilicdaroglu, candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, made incendiary comments on Wednesday accusing the government of allowing an exaggerated 10 million “irregular” migrants to enter the country.

The economist and longtime bureaucrat warned that the number of migrants in Turkey, which has a population of 85 million, could rise to 30 million while providing no evidence for the figures he cited.

Kilicdaroglu went further on Thursday, saying that Erdogan “did not protect [Turkey’s] borders and honour”.

“You knowingly brought more than 10 million refugees to this country,” Kilicdaroglu said. “… I am announcing it here – as soon as I come to power, I will send all refugees home. Period.”

Syrians began fleeing to Turkey and other nations starting in 2011 when President Bashar al-Assad crushed an uprising against his rule and caused war to break out.

Turkey has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country. About 3.6 million are registered in the country.

Turks in general welcomed the refugees initially, but the country is now experiencing an economic crisis as the value of the lira has plunged and inflation has surged, causing resentment to grow against Syrians and other refugee and migrant populations. Nationalists have seized on the economic crisis and Turkey’s relatively welcoming policy towards refugees to attack the government.

Kilicdaroglu’s comments set off debates on social media.

Sami Hamdi, the managing director of International Interest, a political risk firm focusing on the Middle East, tweeted that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader had returned to his party’s “natural” xenophobia.

Another analyst, Oznur Kucuker Sirene, said the speech was likely to appeal to nationalist voters.

Translation: “The alliance with the HDP did not win the election, on the contrary, they were greatly disappointed. It became apparent that the determining factor of the election was the nationalist voters. Let the speeches with Atatürk portraits begin now …”

Another user, Fatih Guner, derided the opposition, saying in a lengthy tweet that its leader is simply appeasing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters while calling for protests in front of CHP headquarters.

“Do not think that the stance and policy of the CHP will change in the eyes of the public with one video. You keep calling it ‘campaign’, it doesn’t matter one bit,” Guner tweeted. “They are appeasing the opposition voters, the CHP is only after their own seat, they have no aim to win the election. KK cannot be trusted.”

Turkish authorities have caught nearly 50,600 undocumented immigrants this year as of May 11 after apprehending 285,000 in 2022, according to Ministry of Interior data.

Migrants and refugees living in Turkey have faced an increasingly hostile climate in recent years, which has led to growing support for their departure from the country and even violence.

Meanwhile, Kilicdaroglu’s supporters reacted to Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu’s statement made in an interview with the local outlet tv100 in which he stated that he cannot send back Syrian refugees already in the country.

“We will not make Turkey a refugee warehouse, but the Syrians are our brothers and sisters. We cannot send them to die,” Soylu said during the interview.

One Twitter user said the following in response: “You are killing us so they don’t die. Why us? Syrians are a flower that will die in one breath, but what about us? Do you want us to die, can you take the risk of losing us?”

Another user doubled down on the idea that the government is forgetting its own people: “But you are abandoning your own people to die. The citizens of this country are in more of a refugee status than Syrians.”

A user also voiced concerns about Syrians impacting the country’s “demographic structure”.

“Can you risk the degradation of the demographic structure? What will happen 20 years later? After the PKK, what if they also ask for land? Is there any guarantee that they won’t say this [land] actually belongs to us or whatever and establish organisations?”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies