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Turkey Elections: Runoff becomes tug of war over Syrian refugees

As Turkey heads for its presidential runoff, the opposition and the government are in a race to send Syrians and other refugees back home in an effort to woo nationalist voters.
Syrian refugees living in the earthquake-affected areas of southeastern Turkey cross the Turkey-Syria border at the Cilvegozu border crossing, Turkey, February 19, 2023. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east in the early hours of February 6, followed by another 7.5-magnitude tremor just after midday. The quakes caused widespread destruction in southern Turkey and northern Syria, leaving behind more than 46,000 dead. (Photo by Konstantinos Tsakalidis / SOOC / SOOC via AFP) (Photo by KONS

IZMIR, Turkey — With a mere 96 hours to Sunday’s crucial runoff that will determine whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will remain at Turkey’s helm for a third decade, the opposition and government have placed Turkey’s 4 million Syrian refugees in a political tug of war. 

“We will never, ever make Turkey a warehouse of refugees,” opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu said Tuesday in Hatay, the earthquake-hit province at Turkey’s Syrian border. According to the Interior Ministry's figures, Syrians under temporary protection comprise about a fifth of the local population. 

“The grievances about refugees we hear in Hatay are similar to those we hear in 81 provinces,” Kilicdaroglu said, standing against a backdrop reading, “Make up your mind before refugees take over the country.”

“Those in power say that they will not send refugees back home. The upcoming elections are essential on this question. We have a plan: We will send the refugees back to their country within two years at most,” said Kilicdaroglu, who received about 5% less votes than incumbent Erdogan in the first round of presidential voting on May 14. 

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