05/11/2022, 12.11
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Erdogan seeks to repatriate one million Syrians before elections

by Marta Ottaviani

The Turkish president has announced the construction of 200 thousand houses in northern Syria for those who choose voluntary return. This would alter the demographic balance in a Kurdish-majority area. But Ankara is in a hurry: the 4 million asylum seekers in the country today weigh heavily on the campaign for next year's elections.  

Milan (AsiaNews) - Turkey has exceeded the 4 million asylum seekers quota and ahead of next year's general election the president of the Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is grappling with a problem that is already costing him a lot and could prove to be a boomerang.

Three days ago, Ankara's number one announced the construction of 200,000 homes in northern Syria for those Syrians who choose voluntary return to their country. The  ambitious goal of the Crescent, is to repatriate one million of them, to start with. These numbers would go a long way toward changing the land balance in the immediate across-the-border, Kurdish-majority area, and offer Turkey a chance to grab a major slice of the country's reconstruction.

"Turkey is moving forward in its goal without hesitation," the head of state said, "in a historical period burdened by wars, conflicts, political and economic crises and social uprisings. So far with good intentions. The numbers, however, speak for themselves. There are currently 4,082,693 asylum seekers living in Turkey. Of these 3,762,686 are Syrians. The Minister of the Interior, Ismail Catakli, said that about 122,000 of them may no longer be in Turkey at the moment because they have lost all trace of them. He also added that nearly half a million Syrians in the past few years have returned to areas where they had been guaranteed safety. In recent months, the country has also had to deal with an increased flow of people arriving from Afghanistan.

Ankara is determined to facilitate the movement of as many Syrians as possible by the start of the election campaign, which should be roughly a year from now. From here to moving at least a million, however, it takes a while.

"Most Syrians would like to go back to their homes," Mazen Kseibi, an activist and member of the Syrian Association for Citizen Dignity, explained to Turkish media. "If we are talking about voluntary return, that's fine, but conditions must be guaranteed.

The conditions are still not there not only in terms of the lack of housing, but also in terms of everything related to the cornerstones of civilian life: basic infrastructure, schools, courts, as well as ensuring security.

In more than 10 years since the beginning of migration flows, Turkey has issued about 200,000 citizenships to millions of asylum seekers who are now under Ankara's "temporary protection." Where, however, the word "temporary" covers a now rather stretched time frame, with consequences on the Turkish economy that are increasingly visible. Compared to the 14,000 Syrians who have managed to rebuild their lives and set up their businesses in Turkey with turnover that, before the pandemic, was nearly 0 million, there are other effects that the Turkish people have liked decidedly less.

A study conducted by Izmir University, showed that in the regulated labor market for every 100 Syrians on the ground meant 20 fewer jobs for Turks. However, the effects on the black labor market where the effects were even more pronounced, are more difficult to track. Then there is the impact on health care, education, and more generally on access to certain services, which has led, over time, to substantial changes in the perception of the Turkish people.

The president is being taken to task. His statements have not gone unnoticed and have garnered criticism from all sides, including from his ally of convenience, Devlet Bahceli, head of the nationalist MHP party, who said without mincing words that the Syrians must leave.

Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu spoke explicitly of the government's failure on migration policies and how the highest price of the Syrian civil war, at least in terms of migration, has been paid by the Turks themselves.

Initially greeted with great fanfare, now Syrian migrants, or rather their repatriation, are likely to become the real bone of contention in the upcoming election campaign.

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