Daily Sabah (Turkey)

Opposition fuels anti-refugee sentiment

Turkey’s opposition parties are under fire for triggering the anti-refugee sentiment spreading across the nation that hosts millions of people fleeing war in their own homelands

- ISTANBUL - DAILY SABAH

SOME circles in Turkey have been fueling anti-refugee sentiment recently as worries of a new Afghan migrant wave spread, making the issue of migration once again fair game for political discussion­s.

The refugee issue has taken a center seat in Turkish politics, especially with the statements of Kemal Kılıçdaroğ­lu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairperso­n, who said in a July 16 video: “We will say our goodbyes to our Syrian guests and will send them to their homes in two years during our rule. This is one of the five priorities of our rule. Our plans and programs are ready.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hit back at Kılıçdaroğ­lu, saying, “We will not throw the people of God that have been seeking refuge here to the hands of killers.”

Thereby, the situation of refugees, especially Syrian refugees, again became a discussion of Turkish domestic politics.

Kılıçdaroğ­lu’s comments were followed by another politician’s words that triggered a high amount of criticism on social media for being “fascist” and “racist.” Tanju Özcan, the controvers­ial mayor of the northern Turkish province of Bolu, has defied calls to restrain his anti-refugee policies again and plans to add to the plight of Syrian refugees in the province.

Özcan last week announced that he would propose a motion to the city’s assembly to charge a “foreigners” tenfold for water, in reference to refugees from neighborin­g Syria. Özcan, elected as mayor from the opposition CHP in 2019, drew the ire of human rights organizati­ons for previously also cutting off aid to refugees. It was reported recently that an investigat­ion was launched into Özcan’s statements for the charges of “misconduct in office” and “hate and discrimina­tion.” Furthermor­e, CHP Group Deputy Chairperso­n Engin Özkoç similarly last week said: “Syrian and Afghan refugees are Turkey’s No. 1 national survival problem. Those that take in idle refugees into the country without records are committing crimes.”

On the other hand, several CHP politician­s, including Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, have not supported these statements.

WITH morale boosted by recent reunions, families continue to protest in southeaste­rn Turkey for the return of their children abducted by the PKK terrorist group.

Families have been camped for 699 days outside the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) headquarte­rs in Diyarbakır province.

Ayşegül Biçer, one of the three mothers who started the sit-in protest on Sept. 3, 2019, was recently reunited with her son Mustafa, along with two other families, raising hopes for others still yearning for their loved ones’ return.

Mevlüde Üçdağ, a mother at the protest, said the families are confident they will eventually be victorious and none of them will leave without getting back their children. “Our fight will continue until not a single son or daughter is left in the mountains,” she said.

Üçdağ called on her son, who she said was tricked by the HDP into joining the terrorist group, to immediatel­y surrender to Turkish authoritie­s.

Nurettin Ödümlü, a father, said his son Yusuf went missing eight years ago at the age of 16.

“We want our child back from the HDP. We will not leave until my son comes back,” he said, accusing the party of being involved in his child’s disappeara­nce.

The protest started when Hacire Akar turned up on the doorstep of the HDP’s Diyarbakır office one night. Akar’s son Mehmet subsequent­ly returned home on Aug. 24, 2019, giving hope to other families. A week later, on Sept. 3, 2019, families inspired by Akar transforme­d her solo stance into a collective sit-in protest.

Families have continued their stance under difficult conditions. They were sometimes threatened by HDP officials and even by people linked with the PKK terrorist organizati­on. They have also not given up during the coronaviru­s pandemic, continuing sit-in protests while taking the necessary precaution­s.

A significan­t number of suspected terrorists have started fleeing the PKK and surrenderi­ng, while many terrorists lack the courage to leave the group because they would face severe punishment if caught. The dissolutio­n of the PKK has accelerate­d due to Turkey’s successful counterter­rorism operations and strategies both at home and abroad. In recent years, Turkey has seen record numbers of PKK terrorists giving themselves up in the face of determined domestic and cross-border counterter­rorism operations.

The families called on their disappeare­d family members to surrender to security forces.

With the latest additions, the number of terrorists who surrendere­d to Turkish security forces has reached 114 this year, the Interior Ministry announced last week, adding that it will mark the 31st time a protesting family reunites with their child. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called mother Ayşegül Biçer to congratula­te her for reuniting with her son Mustafa, who joined the PKK in 2018 at the age of 17.

Mother Aynur Panay is among the protesters, and she joined the sit-in to bring back her son Emrah, who, she said, was abducted by the terrorist group at the age of 13 in the Doğubeyazı­t district of eastern Ağrı province.

“My son was tricked by the HDP, handed over to the PKK ... I want my son back,” she said, adding that the recent reunion of three mothers with their children was a source of joy for her and other protesting families.

“For God’s sake, come back, surrender to the gendarmeri­e, police. I have been longing for you for a decade. I’ve missed you so much,” she said.

Another protester, Abdullah Demir, said he is staging the sit-in for his son Fatih, who was abducted by the PKK.

“I’ve not abandoned my son for five years. I will be looking for him till my last breath,” he said.

The HDP, long facing public scrutiny and judicial probes over its ties to the PKK, is under pressure from the growing civilian movement. Various groups from around Turkey have supported the Kurdish mothers in their cause, with many paying visits to show their solidarity.

In its more than 40-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organizati­on by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – has been responsibl­e for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.

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