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Turkey probes mayor’s anti-refugee sentiments

July 29, 2021 at 11:48 am

Syrian refugees with their belongings pass through Oncupinar border gate to reach their hometowns before Eid al-Adha in Kilis, Turkey on August 29, 2017 [Ensar Özdemir / Anadolu Agency]

Turkey this week launched an investigation into statements issued by the mayor of the northwestern city of Bolu after he said he would charge foreigners – refugees, immigrants and tourists – ten times more for water and waste services, local media reported.

Tanju Ozcan, mayor of Bolu and member of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), later made clear which foreigners he was referring to – refugees whose presence has made Turkey home to the world’s largest refugee population.

In his latest anti-refugee statements, Ozcan came under fire on social media for being “populist” and “fascist” with some even calling for a racial discrimination complaint to be filed against him.

Ozcan was elected mayor in 2019 and instructed the municipality to stop relief for foreigners.

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Ankara deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Emrullah Isler, criticised Ozcan’s statements, saying: “I listened to the racist and provocative words of CHP Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan toward Syrians. It is our humanitarian duty to help those in need and share our bread.”

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, some four million refugees, mostly Syrians, currently live in Turkey.

An estimated 200,000 Afghans make up the second-largest group. The UNHCR says nearly 300,000 people have been displaced inside Afghanistan since January after NATO troops’ withdrawal.

Afghan migrants often intend to cross Turkey to big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, where they can work to earn money to get to Europe, UNHCR says.