Syrian refugees in Turkey fear opposition leader will accept Assad's invitation

Syrian refugees in Turkey fear opposition leader will accept Assad's invitation
Syrian refugees in Turkey have been subject to mounting harassment and racist attacks over recent months as blame is pinned to them for the country's worsening economic woes. Assad's invitation to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is heightening concern.
3 min read
08 October, 2021
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is yet to respond to the invite to Damascus [AFP via Getty Images]

Syrians in Turkey fear the escalation of hate campaigns against them in the event that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP) - the main opposition party in Turkey - accepts an invitation to Damascus from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Invitation to Damascus

Turkish media sources revealed on Thursday 7 October, that Kılıçdaroğlu “had not yet accepted the invitation” which was sent one week ago. Assad had invited the opposition leader to a meeting to discuss coordination on the Syrian refugee issue and increase the pressure on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Kılıçdaroğlu claimed that the CHP would be taking a bold stance on the Kurdish issue and on the subject of meeting with Assad in the coming days. He said the aim would be solving the Kurdish question through working with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and coordination with Damascus on the 'voluntary return' of Syrian refugees, and Kılıçdaroğlu called on all the CHP members to fully support him on this issue.

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Kılıçdaroğlu also said on Wednesday that he would make peace with Egypt and Syria if his party came to power, and that the CHP would “make their priority in foreign policy peace and not war”.

Anti-Syrian campaigns

Turkish political analyst, Jahed Toz says it is likely that the CHP leader would visit Damascus “very soon” to add to the pressure on Syrians in Turkey, where racist harassment has been rising, with hate campaigns launched and fueled by the opposition parties, with the CHP at the helm.

Toz believes that the call for the “return of the Syrians to Syria” would grow, with flimsy excuses, such as that "peace has returned to Syria" or that they are "visiting the liberated areas for their holidays".

Weaponising the refugee issue

The Turkish opposition has vocally blamed Syrian refugees for the declining living standards for Turks and the increasing poverty and unemployment rates. He pointed out that both the CHP and the Good Party (IYI)  have weaponised the issue of Syrians in Turkey to put pressure on the Turkish Government and win over the street before the presidential elections in 2023.

Racist campaigns against Syrians in Turkey have escalated over recent months, especially after the violent events in Ankara in August and in Izmir at the end of September, which broke out after two Turkish teenagers were killed by Syrians.

Tensions are boiling over and the opposition parties are exploiting the public unrest by promising to expel the Syrian refugees if they are voted into power in 2023.

Ghazwan Qurunful, head of the Free Syrian Lawyers Association in Turkey, believes that the invitation to  Kılıçdaroğlu to visit Damascus is dangerous and deeply worrying for Syrian refugees.

He is fearful of the ramifications the visit could have for refugees in the absence of a political solution which would guarantee a safe and dignified return for them to their country.

Mounting restrictions

Qurunful says that there have been a number of recent restrictions imposed on Syrians in addition to the harassment campaigns. These include stopping the issuance of temporary protection “Kimlik” cards to Syrins in most Turkish provinces and plans to introduce higher fees and new restrictions for those wishing to renew short-term residency permits.

In addition to these developments are the long standing regulations curbing Syrian real-estate ownership in Turkey, an increase in higher education fees, and the early termination of more than 12,000 Syrian teachers’ working contracts earlier this year.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.