BY DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL SEP 14, 2023
President Erdoğan underlined on Thursday that Türkiye would not be a hub for illegal migrants, but it would also not tolerate racist attacks against legal migrants and refugees by far-right groups
As racist messages perpetrated by far-right groups against refugees and migrants flood social media, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated Türkiye’s stance on the issue. He stressed that they would not tolerate illegal migration but would also stand against racist behavior and attacks targeting migrants, as well as millions of refugees who fled the war in neighboring Syria.
Erdoğan was addressing prospective district governors at an event in the capital Ankara on Thursday as he highlighted his government’s stand on the issue. “We see efforts on social media to drive our nation to pessimism. Fugitive members of FETÖ (Gülenist Terror Group) and some politicians in Türkiye perpetuate this,” he said.
He was referring to a veiled campaign by far-right groups claiming an influx of migrants and refugees, peppered with racist messages. “These puppets on social media and elsewhere, knowingly or unknowingly, serve the enemies of this country,” he added.
He said that the Turkish nation had a “heart big enough to embrace everyone” and was known for its tolerance in the world. “Our history has no stain of colonialism, neither the stain of racism or fascism. We have a long-held tradition of coexistence, helping the needy and treating people well. We will not allow sinister plots to take root here,” Erdoğan said.
Türkiye hosts the world’s largest refugee population, mostly made up of 3.6 million Syrians living under temporary protection. It’s been more than 10 years since the first group of Syrian refugees, consisting of 250 people, entered Türkiye, starting their new lives in the country after fleeing the war and persecution of the Assad regime. It is also a favored destination for illegal migrants from Asia and Africa as they strive for reaching to Europe via Türkiye.
An apparent increase in the number of migrants gives fodder to far-right groups and perpetuates disinformation on social media. In some cases, refugees or migrants are accused of committing crimes through fake videos. Ümit Özdağ, head of the anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP), is among the sources of this disinformation campaign.
Most recently, Özdağ helped a fake report spread on social media. The report, accompanied by a video, shows a group of young men in civilian clothes engaging in physical workouts on a seaside promenade in Istanbul’s Pendik district in the company of a trainer shouting instructions.
Özdağ claimed it was Afghan migrants undergoing military training. It turned out that the people in the video were members of the naval forces of Pakistan who were staying at a nearby shipyard where a battleship for the Pakistan Navy was being built.
The ZP was repeatedly criticized in the past for its actions toward migrants and refugees, including videos Özdağ shared, showing him “interrogating” refugees he came across, “recommending” them to leave Türkiye “as soon as possible” and his tweets about what critics call “false propaganda” against refugees.
The party came under fire from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working for refugee welfare when its supporters last year released a short film entitled “Silent Invasion” depicting a future Türkiye with more Arabs than Turks. The ZP is regarded as a fringe party, and the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is also a proponent of mass deportation, though it uses softer rhetoric.
Erdoğan said they would foil the plots by “some charlatans on social media to fuel the fire.”
“The state is tasked with taking every measure against these instigators. Our stand is clear. We do not allow illegal migration, nor will we allow those instigators,” he said.
“We will meticulously counter any threat to the rights and freedoms of people. We will not allow a fascist act like xenophobia. We will also resolve problems to illegal migration,” he added. Erdoğan also said they expected more refugees to return to Syria through a housing project they launched in Syria with the financial support of Qatar. Türkiye has already joined forces with Qatar to build some fully equipped 240,000 homes across Idlib and Afrin regions in Syria over the next three years.
The joint “Voluntary, Safe, Honorable Return Project” broke ground in May in Jarablus, a city belonging to Aleppo just south of the Turkish border. In addition to residences, the project will include agricultural plots, commercial facilities, production and industrial areas, and all social equipment from education to health care, authorities said. Some 554,000 Syrians have so far returned from Türkiye to the region, now improved with new schools, hospitals, organized industrial sites and better infrastructure.