'Stop threatening to deport us before every election': Anxious Syrian refugees await the outcome of Turkey's election amid promises of repatriation
With Turkey preparing for the forthcoming second round of elections on May 28, the anxiety deepens for over 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey.
This apprehension is primarily rooted in the promises made by the main opposition Nation Alliance's presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to repatriate these refugees to their home country.
Among these refugees is 44-year-old Um Ahmed, who is also one of the many who experienced the devastating impact of the 7.8 earthquakes in southern Turkey and northern Syria earlier in February, losing her home in Kahramanmaraş.
"We are tired of all that we have been going through, I wish that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the elections so we won’t be deported back to Syria"
Since then, Um Ahmed, along with her daughter and granddaughter, had no choice but to seek refuge with her son in a modest apartment situated in a poor neighbourhood in Istanbul.
“We are tired of all that we have been going through, I wish that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the elections so we won’t be deported back to Syria,” says Um Ahmed, who is currently providing shelter for her daughter following the loss of her husband in the earthquake.
She says she is really concerned upon witnessing the opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, garnering 44.88% of the votes, a figure that aligns with his promise to repatriate refugees, raising anxieties within the refugee community.
In the previous round of presidential and parliamentary elections held on May 14, none of the candidates managed to secure more than 50% of the votes. Consequently, a subsequent round of elections is scheduled to take place on May 28.
Experts indicate that the outcome of this next round may be determined by the supporters of the third candidate, Sinan Oğan, who received 5% of the votes.
Oğan announced on Wednesday he will be backing Erdogan in the next round of elections, which might increase Erdogan's chances of winning the next round.
"You all of course heard Kılıçdaroğlu saying he will send back the refugees Erdogan allowed in before"
In his first speech after the first round, Kılıçdaroğlu insisted that he will return 10 million refugees back to their countries. “Are you aware that if (Erdoğan) remains, more than 10 million refugees will come to Turkey? The dollar will be 30 liras. Let my people stand up. Let those who love their homeland come to the ballot box,” he called upon voters.
Syrian political activist Taha AlGazi told The New Arab that following the first round of the election, hate speech against Syrian refugees increased on both official and public levels. “You all of course heard Kılıçdaroğlu saying he will send back the refugees Erdogan allowed in before; by this statement, he wanted to get the votes of the nationalist Sinan Oğan; this is annoying and worrying,” AlGazi explained.
AlGazi argued that such statements give people in the street more power to be openly racist against Syrians, “more videos of racist incidents are seen online; Syrians are not very comfortable going out in public these days and maybe after the results of the election,” he explained.
A video of a Turkish young man calling Arabs animals went viral on social media earlier last week. Another video showed an Al-Jazeera TV channel correspondent being attacked by the nationalist “Good Party” for speaking Arabic in Turkey.
Last Friday, Bashar Al-Assad was officially welcomed back by the Arab League, after 11 years of membership suspension for brutally attacking protests and opposition-controlled areas. The decision was also received with anxiousness by Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries, mainly Lebanon and Jordan, as this might lead to deporting more of them back to Syria.
"It’s very bureaucratic and humiliating every time I try to renew my residency. I left Syria because I wanted to be respected, a thing I’m still missing here"
O.H, a Syrian refugee in Istanbul who conditioned anonymity for speaking, said that he is fed up with hearing the same words against Syrians in Turkey over and over again. One year ago, O.H. decided to move to the UK with his family. “In the meantime, we are trying to get visas and go to a better place for my children and myself,” he told The New Arab.
O.H says that despite having the status of “refugee” in Turkey, he doesn't feel any kind of protection. “It’s very bureaucratic and humiliating every time I try to renew my residency. I left Syria because I wanted to be respected, a thing I’m still missing here.”
Turkey, as a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, upholds the geographical limitation specified in the 1951 Convention. This position prioritises the resettlement of refugees who have arrived from events outside of Europe to a third country as the most favoured long-term solution.
In April 2013, the Parliament of Turkey passed the country's inaugural asylum law, known as the Law on Foreigners and International Protection.
"We wish to stay here and not be threatened to be deported before every election"
Um Ahmed says that she chose to come to Istanbul and not return to her hometown in Aleppo due to the very bad economic and security situation there. “My children go to Turkish schools and work here. We wish to stay here and not be threatened to be deported before every election."
Abeer Ayyoub is a freelance journalist
Follow her on Twitter: @abeerayyoub