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Far-right Turkish leader likens Syrian refugees to garbage, vows expulsion

Ultranationalist Meral Aksener's plans include “isolating” migrants in “concentration camps” and forcing them to return to their countries of origin against their will under a formal policy of refoulement.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

A top right-wing opposition leader in Turkey has vowed to kick out all Syrian refugees by 2026, saying Turkey has become an “immigrant warehouse” and a “near garbage dump” for Europe, which doesn’t want them. Meral Aksener, the leader of the far-right Iyi or Good party, says she is ready to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria to fix the problem.

Aksener blamed the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party today as she introduced her party’s “Immigration Doctrine and Strategic Action Plan” under which an estimated 3.7 million Syrians would be repatriated and Turkey’s “demographic composition and Turkish identity” would be protected. Aksener asserted that there were at least 8 million refugees currently in Turkey, the largest refugee population in the world.

The plan outlines a series of draconian measures including “isolating” illegal migrants in “concentration camps” and forcing them to return to their countries of origin against their will under a formally declared policy of refoulement. Syrian refugees will be prevented from accessing public parks and beaches “in ways that would disrupt societal tranquility” and stripped of their current benefits.

“On Sept. 1, 2026, in the third year of our rule, we will have returned all Syrian migrants to their country,” Aksener said.

Plan A is to secure the refugees’ voluntary return, supposedly through dialogue with the Assad regime and in collaboration with the EU, which should by Aksener’s reckoning fund reconstruction of Syria’s war-shattered infrastructure. Some 80% of Syrians live in dire poverty aggravated by drought, power shortages and sanctions on the regime. If plan A fails, and few doubt it will, Aksener’s Strategic Action Plan is meant to kick in.

The formula apparently works with a newly formed party, the Victory Party, rising in the polls largely thanks to the racist rhetoric of its leader, the far-right academic Umut Ozdag, and nibbling at the Good Party’s base.

Syrians are paying the price. On Sept. 5, Fares Mohammed Al-Ali, a 17-year-old Syrian, was stabbed to death in the city of Antakya which borders Syria, by an angry mob. He had graduated from high school with top marks and was getting ready to start medical school. The assault was triggered when he brushed against the shoulder of a woman as he was walking down the street. The action was construed by her son as sexual harassment, an accusation that is frequently leveled against Syrians and other asylum seekers. In June two other Syrian youths were killed in separate attacks in Istanbul.

Metin Corabatir, the founding president of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration, said assaults on Syrians are “ballooning” and the government, whose open-door policy at the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 was the “right one,” is doing little to mitigate the situation. Politicians who fan the flames of xenophobia in pursuit of votes have “blood on their hands,” Corabatir told Al-Monitor.

Syrians live in constant fear, with a growing number not sending their children to school where they face growing discrimination. “I wake up every morning feeling sick. The comments are getting harsher and harsher. Aksener has equated Syrians with garbage, it’s a new low,” said Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian analyst at The Economic Research Policy Center of Turkey, a think tank in Ankara.

“All of the political parties are on the same page about the Syrians, albeit with varying formulas for sending them home,” Kadkoy told Al-Monitor. Erdogan says they will be settled in zones in northern Syria that are currently under the Turkish military’s control. The main opposition Republican People’s Party has mooted a milder version of Askener’s proposal.

Either way, he said, such talk only legitimizes violent acts against his fellow Syrians, who feel utterly powerless as their futures are legislated for the sake of votes.

Even Erdogan has started talking about sending Syrians back to their country and of the need for dialogue with Assad, the man he once sought to violently overthrow.

Corabatir noted that the plans constitute a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee must not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. Syrians who return to regime-controlled areas face both in spades.

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