Turkey extends deadline for unregistered refugees in Istanbul
Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
The deadline for Syrian refugees that were registered in Turkey’s other cities, as well as refugees who were not registered at all, to leave the country’s largest city had expired Aug. 20.
“We have tried to spread Syrian refugees in a balanced way throughout the country. Each city has a certain capacity. Currently, more than 540,000 Syrians have the right to stay in Istanbul. We cannot keep more than this number; we need to regulate,” Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu told a group of foreign media representatives on Aug. 21.
The families of 2,600 students already registered in Istanbul schools, those with legal work permits as well as those with certain humanitarian alibis like health issues are exempted from that decision.
A similar process has started in Ankara and will start in Bursa, which are hosting more Syrian refugees than their capacity.
Turkey’s refugee policy’s fundamental tenets have not changed, and there is no question of any refugee being forcefully deported, said Soylu.
The number of Syrian refugees under temporary protection is 3.649 million while the number of those who have returned has reached 347,000, according to Soylu. In 2017, 175,000 irregular refugees were caught while this number is expected to reach 305,000 by the end of this year.
The purpose of the government is to keep everyone registered, said Soylu. Turkey’s open door policy is continuing, he said. About 485,000 new registrations were taken in 2017, while this number was 280,000 in 2018, he added. “This year, there are 70,000 new registrations. In other words, the flow is continuing. But there is also voluntary returns as we have created safe zones thanks to the two military operations in Syria,” said Soylu.
New registrations for Istanbul have been stopped, however, in order to avoid an excessive burden on the city which is attractive for refugees in terms of its informal economy. “Why Istanbul is attractive because of informal work, we need to fight against unregistered employment,” said Soylu.
Until now, 102,000 Syrians have been granted Turkish citizenship. While Soylu said 70 percent of Syrians said they want to go back to their country, he did not share an estimate on how many of them are expected to stay for the rest of their lives in Turkey.
Migration, terror and drug routes have converged into one, and Turkey is both the transit, as well as the final target, of these routes, said the interior minister.
The minister blamed Western countries for being indifferent to the real causes of the refugee problem and called on them to take action to improve the welfare and stability in the regions that are the main source of outgoing migration. The west’s policy of keeping refugees away from the borders is not sustainable. While Europe had a relatively easy year in 2018, in terms of the arrival of refugees, there is no guarantee this trend will continue, according to Turkey’s top executives on migration issue.
‘Mayors’ removal lawful’
The fact that People’s Democracy Party (HDP) has nominated candidates that were under investigation for supporting a terrorist organization is an open challenge to the state, to the law and to democracy, Soylu also said regarding his decision to remove three mayors from office on Aug.19.
“Our aim is to prevent the abuse of democracy,” Soylu said, speaking to foreign media representatives.
The mayors of the southeastern Diyarbakır and Mardin provinces and the eastern Van province — Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, Ahmet Türk, and Bedia Özgökçe Ertan — who were elected by overwhelming majorities in the March 31 local elections, have been suspended.
The Supreme Election Council (YSK) can accept the nomination of candidates who are under investigation but without a finalized conviction, said Soylu. The Constitution’s Article 127, on the other hand, gives the authority to the interior minister to suspend a mayor while an investigation about terror activities is under way, added Soylu. “If there are criminal activities, are we to turn a blind eye to these activities while we wait for the legal process to finalize. This is taken as a preventive measure,” Soylu said.
The minister argued the decision has been taken also in accordance with Articles 45 and 47 of the law on municipalities.
He said the decision is also in line with international norms, citing examples from Spanish courts against Basque and Catalan politicians.
“Despite the knowledge that Ahmet Türk (Mardin mayor) was suspended (from his earlier mayorship), despite the fact that there are seven separate investigations about him; he was nominated again as a candidate. The message is clear: this is a challenge to the state, to the law,” said Soylu.
“Democracy is not a Trojan horse. HDP is provoking democratic processes,” said Soylu.
The Interior minister said the government appointed “acting mayors,” objecting to the previous use of the term “ombudsman.”
Soylu said life continues as usual in the region and added, “Why haven’t people taken to the streets? Because they all know that they (the suspended mayors) are in cooperation with the terror organization.”
Soylu also raised the question himself as to why then these mayors got the overwhelming majority of the votes in the March 31 elections.
“Just as there are people in Istanbul who do not approve of Justice and Development Party policies, there are similar people in the Southeast who does not want to vote for us. As there is no alternative, as Republican People’s Party (CHP) is nonexistent in the region, they vote for HDP. We cannot claim that all who have voted for HDP endorse (illegal) PKK ideology.”