ANKARA: A plan by Turkey to limit the number of foreigners living in individual neighborhoods has sparked fears of a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in a society where anger toward refugees is already high amid growing economic woes.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu last week said that Turkey will enforce a 25 percent foreign quota in every district. In areas where Syrians make up one-quarter of the population, no new foreigners will be allowed in.
“If the number of foreigners in a neighborhood exceeds 25 percent, we will send them to other neighborhoods,” Soylu said.
Students, broken families and people needing healthcare will be exempt from the new rule.
So far, more than 4,500 Syrians are facing relocation out of the Altindag neighborhood in Ankara where they have faced attacks and harassment by angry mobs following the killing of a local teenager by a Syrian refugee last August.
No official clarification has been provided on where the migrants will be resettled.
The resettlement of Syrians from Altindag will serve as a “pilot project” for Turkish authorities planning to extend the quota system to other districts.
Soylu’s statement came on the same day the Interior Ministry announced that more than 193,000 Syrians, including 84,000 children, had become Turkish citizens by the end of 2021. The number of Syrians registered under temporary protection stands at about 3.7 million.
Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin-based think tank, said the new regulation comes against the background of growing anti-immigrant attitudes coupled with increasing anger at the ruling AKP over the country’s economic crisis and governance deadlock.
“Since the municipal elections in 2019, we have been observing a shift away from the AKP’s earlier hospitable policies toward refugees,” she told Arab News.
According to Adar, Syrian refugees have become a focal point in Turkey’s long-running identity struggles, leading to a contentious anti-immigration debate.
“The mounting anti-immigrant sentiments have partly unleashed themselves in the shape of violent attacks on refugees, as was the case in Ankara last August and in Istanbul in January this year,” she said.
Police arrested Turkish and Afghan suspects over the killing of a young Syrian refugee, Nail Al-Naif, in Istanbul. The victim was stabbed while he was asleep in his apartment.
Experts also say that migration management has been systematically used in order to gain support ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections due by 2023.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said: “Turkey will send home the millions of Syrian refugees it hosts and re-establish diplomatic ties with President Bashar Assad if the opposition alliance wins the elections.”
He added: “Migration has become one of the main drivers of political competition. The mainstream opposition parties, such as the Republican People’s Party and the Good Party, have recently reoriented their focus to governmental policy, and they strongly push against Turkey’s hosting of a growing number of refugees and irregular migrants.”
According to Adar, in the face of fierce criticism by the opposition, the government has also acknowledged the public’s burden by leveling up its criticism of the EU for showing insufficient support, ramping up the discussion on repatriating Syrian refugees to northern Syria, and objecting to taking in any Afghan refugees.
“The recent quota regulation is another attempt by the AKP government to contain growing popular discontent against the backdrop of an increasing political competition,” she said.
Adar said that in the face of Turkey’s growing economic crisis, public support for the AKP and its primary supporter, the Nationalist Movement Party, is in steep decline. Approval ratings for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are also falling.
Metin Corabatir, president of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration in Ankara, said that Syrians are concentrated in some neighborhoods because it is close to places where they work.
“They are living in the Altindag district of Ankara because it is close to the furniture manufacturing center of the capital where they are working informally,” he told Arab News.
Corabatir said that political parties should not use the “refugee card” in such a way as to consolidate their voter base.
“If they want to include the migration management problems in their election campaign, they should concentrate on ways to further integrate these people into society. But so far no one has suggested any solution for local integration,” he said.
“These people, both foreigners and refugees, are expected to remain in Turkey even after the elections. The best policy is to suggest new ways of employment, health and education rather than pledging to send them back or giving them only 48 hours to vacate their houses and find a new one in a new district,” he added.