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Anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise again in Turkey as elections approach. Social media, in particular, has become a hub for hatred toward migrants. For example, as the Turkish police have revealed, some social media accounts affiliated with terrorist organizations are deliberately provoking people by using fake accounts posing as Syrian migrants. The fake migrant accounts challenge the Turkish people and have caused anger. Unfortunately, such heinous provocations serve their purpose and inflame anti-migrant sentiments. Besides such accounts, though few, some real migrants also pour gasoline on the fire by harassing Turkish women, who take videos of the harassment and post them on social media.
All incitements are used by Turkish far-right groups to launch anti-migrant campaigns and the more they use them, the more incidents take place. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government currently suffers from fabricated and real anti-migrant movements, and is forced to find a permanent solution to the migrant problem, even as opposition parties hope to benefit from the problem by winning against the current government in presidential elections. Their anti-migrant campaigns indeed worked in the municipal elections of 2019 as they won the polls in the big cities of Turkey, including the three biggest ones. What is more, polls show that even the electorate of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) does not want migrants to stay any longer in Turkey.
Policy after the war
When the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the Turkish government adopted an open-border policy to save the lives of civilians fleeing the oppression of Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad. Between the war and terrorist organizations controlling various parts of Syria, people squeezed in between different armed groups fled their countries. Turkey did not remain indifferent to the suffering of the Syrian people and wanted to embrace them until the end of the war. Yet, the war continues and there is no sign that Syria will be safe to return to.
However, due to the long stay of many Syrians, Turkish people have considered the impact of the influx of more than 4 million Syrians and no longer feel empathy for them in recent years. Rising unemployment and inflation rates, in particular, have caused discomfort and made people think that Syrians are to blame. In addition, some people believe in false flag claims that the state gives money to migrants and blame the government for prioritizing migrants over Turkish citizens.
The government tries to tackle all this black propaganda while finding a solution for the return of Syrians. Regarding the black propaganda, there is almost no remedy to it since sweet lies are always preferred to painful truths. On the other hand, nowadays the government is developing a new project for migrants to help them to return to Syria by building houses, opening and repairing schools, constructing roads and opening new hospitals in the north of the country. A total of 63,000 houses will be ready to be occupied soon. Also, 1,429 schools are now open. Besides, at least two Turkish universities have campuses in the north of Syria. More services for migrants are on the way.
However, it is a pity that the Turkish government could not satisfy many people in spite of doing so many great things for migrants. Such mercy and conscientious behavior may rarely be witnessed in another part of the world or even in history. Erdoğan’s government seems to have become the victim for saving victims of a civil war. The expectation would be praise and appreciation but the government has faced condemnations and accusations instead.
For instance, the EU, which did not allow migrants to enter member states of the union, wanted Turkey to stop refugees in return for covering some expenses. Yet, they still blamed the Turkish government, claiming that Turks were blackmailing them. They could prevent blackmailing (if it was really the case) by not making any payments, but they did not. Moreover, the U.S. intervened in Syria and supported the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK terrorist organization, but did not help Turkey handle refugee problem. The Arab League, except some members, has accused Ankara of violating Syria’s sovereignty but does not question who pushed so many migrants toward Turkey. Plus, they ignore that Turkey hosts millions of Arabs and works to ensure their safety, which is actually their duty.
It is correct that the Turkish government has made some mistakes in planning the flow and settlement of migrants, but dealing with such large numbers of displaced people is a difficult duty. Therefore, it can be fairly said that the Erdoğan-led government does not deserve to be a victim and to be blamed for what it did for migrants.
*Holder of a Ph.D. in International Relations