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Turkiye Mayor erects Arabic banner warning refugees to return to Syria

Syrians, who are returning to their homes in Syria, are seen at the border gate in Hatay, Turkey on 11 July 2021 [Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency]
Syrians, who are returning to their homes in Syria, are seen at the border gate in Hatay, Turkey on 11 July 2021 [Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency]

The Mayor of the small Turkish city of Bolu has erected banners in both Arabic and Turkish, issuing a "last call" and order for Syrian refugees to return to their country and leave Turkiye.

Tanju Ozcan, the Mayor of Bolu in the north-west of the country, yesterday shared images of the banners which targeted "temporary refugees from the Bolu municipality", telling them that "11 years ago you said you came to our country as guests. The Turkish nation has been protecting you for years with its scarce resources. You've overstayed your welcome."

Referring to the economic crisis that has been ravaging Turkiye over the past few years, the banner continued: "You see the economic depression in our country. Our youth are unemployed, families live below the poverty line. Under these conditions, we have no more bread and water to share with you. It's time for you to go as you came. You are no longer wanted, return to your country."

In his Twitter post displaying the banners, Ozcan stated that "We have written and spoken in Turkish many times. They didn't understand. We wrote in a language that both the government and the invaders could understand. It is enough".

Since winning the position as Mayor of Bolu in 2019, Ozcan has been a particularly controversial figure who has attempted to implement a series of anti-refugee discriminatory policies within the city and its surrounding areas. Upon his victory and assuming of his post, for example, his first act was to cut social aid to refugees and migrants in the province.

Last year, too, he passed through a law to increase the cost of water bills for refugees and migrants by 11 times, as well as hiking up the fees of marriage licenses for foreigners in the province. All of those actions were an attempt by Ozcan to deter foreigners – especially Syrian refugees – from settling in Bolu.

READ: Turkish ultranationalists should know that Assad is their enemy, not Syrian refugees

Apart from outrage and heavy criticism from segments of the Turkish society and rights groups, there has also been legal and democratic pushback against his policies. In January, an administrative court in Bolu province imposed an injunction on his discriminatory anti-refugee policies.

In November, his own party – the Republican People's Party (CHP) – also began a disciplinary process regarding the Mayor.

More recently, today the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (TIHEK) was reported to have ruled that Ozcan's policies are a violation of the prohibition of discrimination in the country, and imposed an administrative fine amounting to 40,000 TL ($2,519).

The prevalence of anti-refugee policies in Bolu can also be attributed to the political parties which have contested the province, with the CHP mayor having ousted the previous mayor – Alaaddin Yilmaz – who was part of the country's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Unlike the AKP, which aims to encourage Syrian refugees to voluntarily return to their country in a gradual process once it is safe and stable enough to do so, the CHP and its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has guaranteed that they will forcefully deport all of the refugees back to Syria if they come to power.

READ: Turkey implements 25% quota for foreigners in districts, reportedly targeting Syrians

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