The Turkish government is implementing a plan to restrict the foreign population in districts throughout the country to a maximum of 25 per cent, with Syrians reportedly being the primary target of the scheme.
Speaking to reporters last week, Turkey's Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, announced that the government has closed areas in 16 provinces – including districts in major cities like Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir – to new foreign residents so far, stating that "If the number of foreigners in a neighbourhood exceeds 25 per cent, we will send them to other neighbourhoods".
The scheme is part of the government's "Dilution Plan", which aims to prevent the "ghettoisation" of neighbourhoods by limiting the number of foreigners who live in them. Although Soylu mentioned only "foreigners" in his comments, they reportedly refer to Syrians, in particular – both refugees who have fled the ongoing Syrian conflict and economic migrants who have recently tried moving to Turkey to escape economic crisis in Syria.
Activists have expressed their outrage at the plan, fearing that it will further embolden racist and xenophobic attitudes in Turkish society. There is also a concern that the plan would especially target refugees and asylum seekers, with organisations that support refugees saying that it could encourage local politicians in districts to charge higher prices to foreigners for essentials such as water and electricity, in an effort to force Syrian and Afghan refugees to move elsewhere.
The director of the Ankara-based NGO, Earth is Home International Solidarity Association, Burcak Sel Tufekci, told the news outlet, Al-Monitor, that "The plan to impose quotas on the refugees is a demonstration of the deadlock faced by the government, whose support is sliding due to the economic crises."
According to Turkey's immigration authority, the plan gained ground from the stabbing of a young Turkish man by Syrian refugees during clashes in Ankara's Altindag district last year. Following riots and the destruction of Syrian businesses in that area, the government relocated over 4,500 of the district's Syrian refugees and closed 177 Syrian-owned businesses there.
That process is now revealed to have been a pilot test for this "Dilution Plan", with it now being rolled out nationwide.
"Ever since the brawl between the Syrian refugees and the locals … many Syrians have been relocated in Ankara. We now know that this is a nationwide plan and possibly more steps to come for the refugees as elections approach," Tufekci said.
The plan is predicted by some to worsen and embolden the anti-refugee sentiment that has swept throughout much of Turkish society over the past few years, but the government insists that it is being implemented with the aim of reducing and easing tensions in the country by managing the demographic distribution.
Turkey's General Directorate of Migration Management has claimed that all relocations and resettlements have been conducted on a "voluntary basis", although many activists are concerned that this may not be the case.